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What Causes Soreness 3 Days After a Leg Workout

author image Heather Topham Wood
Heather Topham Wood is a seasoned writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including USA Today, Gadgetell, Feel Rich and Step in Style. Heather is a published novelist with six Amazon bestsellers and a contract through Crescent Moon Press. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from TCNJ.
What Causes Soreness 3 Days After a Leg Workout
Relieve muscle soreness after your leg workout. Photo Credit Barry Austin/Digital Vision/Getty Images

When you experience muscle pain for three days after working out your legs, you are likely suffering from delayed-onset muscle soreness. This condition typically does not occur immediately after a workout. Pain may appear 24 to 48 hours after exercise and the discomfort may last for up to one week. In the case soreness continues and does not respond to treatment methods, contact your doctor. You could have sustained an injury during your workout.


According to the American Council on Exercise, the most likely cause of muscle soreness after exercise is tiny tears occurring in the muscle fibers. Changes in an exercise routine most often cause delayed-onset muscle soreness. If you have increased the amount of weight you used in your leg workout or how many reps you performed, the condition is more likely to occur.

Eccentric Contractions

Muscle soreness in your legs several days after a leg exercise is often associated with eccentric contractions during the workout. Eccentric contractions occur when your muscle is activated and is forced to lengthen due to a high external load. When this happens, your muscle tension is high. When you do an active workout that involves your quads, such as walking on hilly terrain, the muscle group undergoes eccentric contractions with each step. When your quads are not used to doing this daily, your muscle fibers become damaged as you do the workout -- you'll be left feeling stiff and sore days later.


Anti-inflammatory drugs seem to be the most helpful to get rid of soreness after a workout. Take either ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed to relieve discomfort in your legs. The application of ice may also be helpful to reduce muscle soreness. Apply an ice pack to the legs and leave on for 15-minute intervals throughout the day.

Expert Insight

Certain therapies used to treat delayed-onset muscle soreness have been proven to not be effective. According to a 2003 study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” massage, ultrasound and stretching before a workout were named as ineffective treatments to manage pain from delayed-onset muscle soreness.


While you are experiencing soreness, you should avoid exercising your legs for at least one to two days after symptoms appear. If you decide to continue exercising as your muscles heal, perform workouts that target other areas of the body, such as your arms and core muscles. Once you do begin working your legs again, decrease the weight and gradually increase the intensity of your workout over a one- to two-week period.

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