What Causes Tingling in the Legs After Exercise?

As blood flow increases to your body during exercise, your muscles enlarge to accommodate it. Although this helps bring strength and endurance to the task at hand, those swollen muscles can impinge on nerves and veins, causing leg tingling after a workout. This common cause of tingling in the muscles after exercise isn't the only thing that might cause the sensation, however. It's important to know when the feeling might be more serious and necessitate a trip to the doctor.

Tingling in the legs can be caused by something as simple as wearing new shoes. (Image: Kiattisak Lamchan / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

Tip

If your legs tingle after walking or exercising, the sensation can be caused by a number of factors, such as increased blood flow, impingement of a nerve or a muscle spasm. It's usually no cause for concern — as long as it goes away with rest.

Chronic Tingling Needs Evaluation

If your tingling doesn't go away after a reasonable amount of time — say, an hour or so after you stop exercising — it's important to chronicle it in your workout journal. Note when you first noticed the tingling: Does it appear after you've been working out for several minutes or only after stopping?

Jot down exactly where you're feeling the sensation. For example, new running shoes can rub nerves on the top of your foot that make your legs tingle after walking if they're laced too tightly. Tingling in muscles after exercise that runs down the back of your thigh could indicate problems in your lower back.

Your notes will come in handy, particularly if your tingling appears only intermittently. Are you wearing a particular item of clothing that could be cutting off blood flow or impinging a nerve? Is there any pain that appears in your body at the same time, whether you think it's related or not? Careful note-taking can help you communicate with your doctor and obtain an accurate diagnosis should the sensation become a regular part of your exercise routine.

Tingly? Or Itchy?

If your tingling in muscles after exercise feels a bit itchy up and down your legs, perhaps traveling to your buttocks and lower abdomen, it could be a histamine response. Yes, you're officially "allergic to exercise," but don't tie your running shoes together and throw them over a telephone line just yet.

Histamine plays an important role in helping your muscles combat fatigue through regulating microcirculation. It helps deliver maximum oxygen to your muscles while rapidly helping the body carry away carbon dioxide and other waste products to keep your body operating at maximum efficiency. This is why you'll often start to feel the tingles about 15 minutes or so into your workout.

Histamine pouring into your H1 histamine receptors can actually be a beneficial thing for the body — so most people don't need to worry about popping an allergy pill to try to reduce the effect. The substance helps your skeletal muscles produce nitric oxide, a beneficial chemical stored in the muscles that decreases with age. Nitric oxide positively affects the health of mitochondria — the energy powerhouses of the body's cells — helping them be more efficient at converting food to energy and clearing away old or broken cells. Be aware that in rare instances, exercise could cause anaphylaxis, so it's best to be safe and talk to your doctor.

Rapid Onset of Tingling

If tingling isn't normally part of your exercise experience and you haven't added any new constrictive clothing items to your wardrobe, a sudden onset of leg tingling after a workout could indicate injury. It's vital to visit your health care professional for an evaluation instead of just powering through the pain. Failing to treat an injury appropriately can result in you being sidelined for months.

Injury to your lower spine's sacroiliac (SI) joint — such as when you take a misstep on the gym equipment or step unexpectedly onto an uneven surface when jogging — can cause tingling down the leg on one side of the body. Women are particularly susceptible to SI injury when they experience hormonal changes due to their monthly period or pregnancy that cause the ligaments to soften, causing hypermobility of the joint.

Stiffness in the joint is another cause of pain and tingling requiring rest, evaluation by a medical professional and sometimes physical therapy. A herniated disc causes tingling, burning and pain down one leg and is common in those who are aging or have arthritis of the spine. Massage, rest and stretching can help the symptoms, which usually clear up in a few months.

Both Legs Tingling After Workout

When the sensation of leg tingling after a workout runs down both of your legs, chances are the problem is in your lower back. It's important to visit your doctor to have an evaluation to rule out any potentially serious conditions.

Spinal stenosis is a compression of the spinal cord in the lower back, and can be an indicator of arthritis, injury or aging. Tingling or numbness is often accompanied by pain traveling down both legs that is worse when standing upright and lets up when you're seated or bending forward at the waist. You might also have trouble with your balance or changes in bowel or bladder control.

Other causes of pins and needles in both legs include neuropathy, a nerve impingement that can be caused by structural issues or diabetes. Narrowing of the blood vessels or arteries or other systemic disease could also be the reason. Take a break from your workout routine and get a thorough medical evaluation should your tingly legs give you cause for concern.

Rest Your Body

If the tingling is minor and doesn't bother you, it's just fine to go about your day. As the blood is no longer needed for strenuous exercise, some of the blood flow will leave your muscles and the tingly feeling will stop.

The National Institute for Fitness & Sport recommends a multipronged recovery program after exercise. First, get physical rest in which your body is freed from the energetic demands placed on it. Hydrate and fuel your body with healthy food options to help it repair. Massages, alternating hot and cold showers or icing muscles can also reduce the muscle swelling that can be making your legs feel tingly.

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