It’s not uncommon to experience fatigue or soreness in your legs and muscles after vigorous exercise. However, if you find your legs continue to hurt after exercising, it’s possible you may have an underlying blood vessel disorder. While some of these disorders may be temporary and benign, others may require immediate medical attention.
Pain in your legs during and after exercise may take one of several forms. It can develop gradually or suddenly or it can be intermittent or continuous. You may feel a sharp stabbing or more of a dull ache or tingling throughout your leg or in a specific area, such as your ankle, calf or shin. There are several circulatory conditions that can cause these symptoms, each requiring different treatments.
Claudication is a pain caused by too little blood flow during exercise, although as it gets worse, it can continue to cause problems even after exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s often a symptom of peripheral artery disease due to atherosclerosis, where clumps of fat, cholesterol and other material called plaques build up inside your blood vessels. Your doctor may prescribe medications or angioplasty, using an inflatable balloon fed through the affected vessel to widen it.
Exertional Compartment Syndrome
You have sheets of connective tissues under the skin in your legs that wrap around muscles, nerves and blood vessels, forming a unit known as a compartment. If pressure builds up within these compartments, it disrupts blood flow to your muscles, causing pain. To solve the problem, you may only need rest or a change in your exercise routine, but in extreme cases, surgery is required.
Blood clots can sometimes form in the veins in your legs, a condition called thrombophlebitis. Sometimes the clot is close to the surface of a vein, which is superficial thrombophlebitis, but other times it’s found deep inside a vein, known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Superficial thrombophlebitis usually goes away on its own and is relatively harmless. A DVT is potentially life-threatening, as it can break out and travel through your veins to other parts of your body like your heart, lung and brain. If you are diagnosed with DVT, your doctor will prescribe blood thinners, and you may need to wear support stockings, have a vena cava filter implanted in your abdomen, or have surgery to remove the clot.
Varicose and Spider Veins
Varicose veins and spider veins are veins that become enlarged and turn blue or red and look like tree branches or twisted, bulging cords. They are caused by weak valves in your blood vessels, allowing blood to back up and pool inside the veins. Although usually harmless, they can cause significant pain, especially during and immediately following exercise. The National Women’s Health Information Center reports that to treat symptoms, you can use compression stockings. To get rid of the affected areas, however, your doctor may use sclerotherapy, where a liquid chemical is injected into the vein, surface laser treatments, radiofrequency treatments or surgery.
You should contact your doctor immediately if the pain is accompanied by swelling, gets worse, or has signs of redness, warmth or tenderness. These are common symptoms of a DVT, and the sooner you receive medical attention, the less likely your risk of the clots causing further, and potentially fatal, complications.