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What Causes Leg Aches After Exercise

by
author image Brenda Barron
Brenda Barron is a writer, editor and researcher based in Southern California. She has worked as a writer since 2004, with work appearing in online and print publications such as BabyZone, "Cat Fancy" and "ePregnancy." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from California State University, Long Beach.
What Causes Leg Aches After Exercise
What Causes Leg Aches After Exercise Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock/GettyImages

Any regular exercise knows the feeling of sore, achy legs are a few hard workouts — but what's the science behind it? These aches are more than just a nuisance; they can completely halt your workouts for the week. Although any severe or long-lasting pains should be evaluated by a health care professional, general aches and pains can be treated at home. Next time you plan a strenuous workout, take care to avoid next-day aches.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

If you experience sore muscles after a workout, it's probably delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. These symptoms can happen 24 to 72 after any type of strenuous exercise, including strength training, jogging or walking up and down hills.

Mostly DOMS is just experienced as an ache; but other symptoms could include swelling and tenderness around the muscle. Rest and ice; and do not resume the particular exercise that caused the ache, until you feel better.

Read More: How to Ease Muscle Soreness After a Workout

Apply ice packs and take a pain reliever to ease muscle aches.
Apply ice packs and take a pain reliever to ease muscle aches. Photo Credit: twinsterphoto/iStock/GettyImages

Treating and Preventing DOMS

Luckily, even if the pain is bad, DOMS typically doesn't require medical attention. However, if the pain is simply debilitating or if you experience heavy swelling, head to the doctor. Otherwise, take a break from activity to let the symptoms subside, though light activity won't make things worse. To ease pain, apply ice packs, massage the tender area and consider over-the-counter pain relievers.

To avoid DOMS in the future, ease into a new workout routine. Although you might not avoid soreness together — any muscle that has its fibers broken down via strength-training will feel the effect the next day — gradually progressing will make it much less painful. A proper warmup also helps decrease the amount of pain you'll feel later.

Read More: How to Treat Sore Calves

Other Potential Causes

Although DOMS is the most likely cause of muscle pain after a workout, some other conditions could be the culprit.

Venous Fluid

Post-exercise leg aches could be caused by fluid that has accumulated in your extremities. This occurs when the veins don't move blood out of your legs quickly enough. The sensations caused by this buildup include cramps, aches and burning. Those who have been generally inactive or who are overweight are more likely suffer from a buildup of fluid in the veins.

Strained Calves

Straining your calf muscle could also be to blame for your leg aches after exercising. A strain in your calf could be caused by a failure to warm up prior to starting your workout. Generally, rest is required to allow the strain to heal completely, before you resume exercising.

Vascular Disease

The sudden onset of pain or aching in your legs after exercise could be a symptom of peripheral artery or peripheral vascular disease. This condition is a clogging of the arteries that are not contained within the heart. When this happens in the legs, you may feel weakness and pain. Several risk factors exist, including being over the age of 50, having high blood pressure or diabetes and smoking.

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