Pins & Needles in the Leg When Running

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Athletes racing out of the starting blocks on a track. (Image: TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images)

Whether you're an experienced runner or have only recently taken up recreational jogging, it is not uncommon to experience a pins and needles sensation in your legs while running. This uncomfortable sensation has various causes that you can usually take measures to prevent.

Background

The medical term for the pins and needles sensation is known as paresthesia. This tingly feeling signals irritation of sensory nerves in the area, explains Dr. Trisha Macnair on BBC Health. She elaborates that this irritation can have several causes, including damage to the nerves’ blood supply or damage to the nerves themselves. Though paresthesia is a more common complaint among older people due to diseases affecting the nerves as you age, a nerve irritation can cause a pins and needles sensation in your legs when you run.

Lack of Blood Flow

A common reason for nerve irritation causing paresthesia while running is reduced blood flow to the nerves supplying your lower legs and feet, physiologist Charlie Pedlar explains. This issue might be because your running shoes or socks are too tight. You can easily correct the problem by purchasing socks that fit more loosely or by not tying your shoelaces too tightly before going for a run, Pedlar suggests. It is also possible that you naturally have poor circulation resulting in decreased blood flow to the lower legs and feet.

Nerve Entrapment

Nerve entrapment of the lower leg or foot might trigger pins and needles, Dr. Paul McCrory explains. This entrapment may be due to awkward running technique, such as overpronation of the foot. Podiatrist Simon Costain explains that most peoples’ feet tend to roll inward, or pronate, when they run, and wearing running shoes that fail to compensate for this may result in overpronation. In this case it is necessary to book an assessment with a podiatrist, who can analyze your running gait and recommend running shoes or insoles designed to correct any awkward running techniques.

Stretches

Stretching your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps before running can prevent pins and needles. A common calf stretch for runners involves placing both your hands on a wall with arms fully extended. Next, stagger one leg in front of the other, with your forward leg bent and your back leg extended. Finally, push the heel of your back leg into the ground, hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds, and repeat with the other leg. Stretches increase blood flow to the nerves supplying the lower leg and foot and can prevent you from experiencing paresthesia.

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