If you have pain in your legs, it is often due to harmless sore muscles. This occurs after the muscles are overloaded and usually disappears on its own. However, similar pain can also be caused by other complaints. Usually nerves or muscles are acutely affected, the symptoms last longer and are more pronounced.
In the following guide, we tell you where leg pain can come from and when you should see a doctor. You will learn the difference between sore muscles and other causes of muscle and nerve pain. We will also explain tips to prevent muscle pain and how you can relieve the symptoms with simple home remedies.
the essentials in brief
- Sore muscles are harmless pains in the muscles that can occur after physical exertion. Symptoms are mostly mild and usually go away on their own after 5-10 days.
- Muscle and nerve pain can also have other causes. Simple home remedies and a balanced diet can already help to prevent them and reduce the symptoms.
- If other symptoms occur in addition to the pain, these can be serious complaints such as thrombosis or sciatica. In this case, medical advice should be sought.
Definition: What is sore muscles?
Sore muscles are harmless pains in the muscles, often also in the thigh and calf muscles. This usually comes from overexertion during sports or other physical activities. This creates fine tears in the muscle fibers, which allows water to penetrate the fibers. Due to the increased accumulation of water, called edema, the affected muscle fiber swells and is stretched.
This becomes noticeable after one to three days in the form of stretching pain (1). During this period, the muscle is sensitive to pressure, less flexible and powerless. Heavy loads should be avoided if possible so that the muscle can recover. After ten days at the latest, the sore muscles usually go away on their own. If this does not happen, you should seek medical advice (2).
Background: What you should know about leg pain like sore muscles
Sore muscles Pain usually occurs one to three days after the muscles have been overloaded. The pain is harmless and can be inhibited with various home remedies. However, if other symptoms appear and the pain does not subside within a week, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
What does sore muscles in your legs feel like?
Muscle soreness occurs about one to three days after unusual, heavy muscle exertion.
Typically, one notices a pulling, tightening, or tearing in the affected muscle.
Furthermore, the muscle is often sensitive to pressure, stiff and hard. The body feels powerless. The symptoms increase with movements and loads. After about a week, the sore muscles are usually gone.
Muscle soreness occurs after overuse of the muscles, but is usually harmless. (Image source: Arek Adeoye / Unsplash)
What is muscle pain in the legs?
Muscle pain (myalgia) can cause a stabbing, cramping or pulling, sometimes burning or oppressive feeling in the affected muscle. In principle, any muscle can be affected, but muscle pain is particularly common in the shoulders, back and legs (3).
Muscle pain can be triggered by the following:
|muscle injuries||Sore muscles, muscle strains or bruises often occur during sports. Unusual exertion or a lack of warm-up before exercise can cause the symptoms. Muscle fiber or muscle tears can also occur.|
|muscle tension||Muscle tension is expressed by pulling or slightly stabbing muscle pain that is localized. The muscle is shortened and feels very hard. Common causes are lack of exercise and poor posture.|
|muscle cramps||Muscle pain from spasms can occur anywhere in the body. The calves are often affected. This is caused by a disturbed metabolism in the affected muscles, usually due to a lack of magnesium.|
|muscle diseases||Triggered by muscle inflammation, autoimmune diseases or non-inflammatory muscle diseases The pain can be acute, i.e. sudden and very strong, but it can also develop chronically.|
Other causes of muscle pain can be nutrient deficiencies, infections, or hormonal imbalances (4).
What does nerve pain in the leg feel like?
Nerve pain usually only affects one leg. The affected area usually feels numb and tingles. Strain on the leg, but also bending over the upper body can increase nerve pain.
Symptoms typically include muscle weakness and discomfort in the leg. The freedom of movement is severely restricted and the load capacity is noticeably reduced. (5.6)
How does nerve inflammation manifest itself?
The painful inflammation of a nerve is also called neuritis when the pain persists, and neuralgia when the pain is temporary. The clear difference is that the pressure pain is significantly higher in neuritis than in neuralgia.
The main symptom of nerve inflammation is pain of varying intensity. This can cause pain that swells up and down, as well as pulling and boring(6).
How do you recognize a thrombosis in the leg?
A thrombosis occurs when the blood flow in the body becomes imbalanced due to biochemical processes. A lack of exercise, for example when sitting or lying down for a long time, impedes blood circulation. Where the blood stagnates, a blood drop (thrombus) forms, restricting the blood supply to the site.
A first indication of a possible thrombosis are complaints that only affect one leg.
Muscle soreness, on the other hand, affects both legs in most cases. Typical symptoms are the following:
- repeated inexplicable severe pain in the leg
- swelling of a leg
- differently warm legs
- Sensation of heat in one leg
- bluish discoloration on one leg
- severe pain when stepping
Since the symptoms of thrombosis are not clear, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible if there is any suspicion.
How do you recognize sciatica?
Sciatica affects the sciatic nerve, which causes pain through irritation, constriction or damage. Various causes can be responsible for this.
|Narrowing or pinching of the nerve||Signs of wear and tear on the intervertebral discs, lumbar spine and sacrum lead to a narrowing of the intervertebral foramina and thus to a pinched nerve. Sudden movements, twisting, and lifting heavy loads can cause pain.|
|nerve irritation||For example through cool drafts, moisture (e.g. wet swimwear), sitting on cold stones or colds.|
|nerve inflammation||For example through infections.|
|nerve damage||Occur in the context of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, rheumatism) or injuries (e.g. broken hip bones or dislocations).|
Sciatica pain is often described as dull, throbbing, or even like an electric shock. They often appear suddenly and without warning. Usually only one side of the body is affected, with the pain extending over the entire nerve, from the lumbar region through the vessel to the leg and foot. Other possible symptoms are numbness, increased sensitivity, tingling, burning or muscle weakness, and in rare cases paralysis (7).
What nutrient deficiency can cause muscle pain in the leg?
A lack of minerals such as calcium and magnesium can trigger muscle cramps and pain. A lack of iron in the body causes anemia and listlessness, which can also lead to sleep and concentration disorders as well as muscle pain (8).
Deficiency symptoms can often be compensated for with dietary supplements.
Other symptoms of a magnesium deficiency are:
- depressive states
- Numbness in hands and feet
However, the symptoms mentioned can also indicate other disorders or diseases, which is why they are not solid evidence of a magnesium deficiency (9).
Among the vitamins are vitamin B12 and vitamin D, the vitamins that when deficient can lead to problems in the muscles (10). If your body suffers from a severe deficiency or basically needs more vitamins, it is advisable to compensate for this with the help of vitamin B12 supplements or vitamin D supplements . Discuss this with your doctor beforehand.
Treating leg pain: The best tips & tricks against pain in the legs such as sore muscles
Simple home remedies can help treat mild symptoms. You can find a few tips from us in the following section.
Pain in the legs with vitamin deficiency
Muscle pain in the context of a vitamin deficiency is usually mild if there is no previous illness. Medical advice should be sought if a vitamin deficiency is suspected. Slight vitamin deficiencies can often be compensated for with a balanced diet.
- Vitamin E : in vegetable oils, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts
- Vitamin D : is produced by the body itself, walk in sunlight for about 30 minutes a day
- Vitamin B complexes : in cereals, rice, whole grain products, legumes
- Vitamin B12 : Found in animal products
Alternatively, vitamins can also be supplied to the body through dietary supplements. In order to cover the widest possible range of vitamins for the body, a multivitamin supplement is recommended. Medical advice should also be obtained beforehand.
Pain in the legs with magnesium deficiency
A magnesium deficiency can often be the trigger for muscle cramps. If the magnesium content in the body is too low, too much calcium penetrates into the interior of the muscle cell and overstimulates the nerves located there (9).
You can avoid this by regularly eating magnesium-rich foods. These include, for example:
- Nuts (e.g. walnuts or almonds)
- Seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds or flax seeds)
- Dark chocolate (from 60% cacao content upwards)
In the case of a severe deficiency, magnesium can also be supplied via dietary supplements containing magnesium . However, you should discuss this with your doctor first.
Pain in the legs with iron deficiency
Iron deficiency can result from excessive loss of iron through the blood, eg due to menstruation. Increased iron consumption, e.g. in endurance athletes, or the simple lack of certain foods, e.g. in vegetarians or vegans, can also be responsible (11). In addition to muscle pain, typical symptoms include the following:
- susceptibility to infection
- increased sensitivity to cold
- memory and concentration disorders
In the case of a severe deficiency, iron can also be supplied to the body via dietary supplements containing iron . It is advisable to seek medical advice beforehand.
Home remedies for leg pain such as sore muscles
Muscle pain in the legs and thighs can be traced back to various causes. Here are some home remedies that can help.
Slow walks or a few quiet paces around the house can stimulate the muscles to repair themselves. When sitting, you should put your legs up to relieve them.
If the pain is too severe, however, you should rest and protect the muscles as much as possible. Cooling can also help with severe pain(12). Put a cooling pad on the affected area for a maximum of 10 minutes. Then rest for at least 20 minutes. Make sure not to put the cooling directly on the skin, but wrap it in a towel.
Capsaicin is an active ingredient contained in cayenne pepper and hot paprika and provides the well-known feeling of heat and spiciness. If it reaches the nerve endings of the skin, it comes via a special mechanism in the body that increases the pain threshold.
Capsaicin has an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect and is also used for muscle pain. (Image source: Artem Beliaikin / Unsplash)
It has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Creams and ointments containing capsaicin are used for arthritis, joint and general muscle pain (15,16).
Heat against muscle tension
If your legs hurt due to muscle tension, heat can also help a lot. This relaxes the muscle and stimulates blood circulation (13). There are various ways of supplying heat to the muscle.
- Medicinal bath : Bathing in warm water with bath salts containing magnesium, bath additives containing eucalyptus oil or lavender oil promote muscle relaxation.
- Hot-water bottle or cherry pit pillow : Warm the pillow or bottle and place it on the painful area.
- Red Light Lamps : These lamps give off a gentle warmth. You can keep it constant and targeted to the painful area.
- Sauna session : The warmth of a sauna session not only relaxes your muscles, but also strengthens your immune system.
As you can see, there are different ways to release muscle tension with heat. Alternatively, you can also use heat pads that are attached directly to the body. As a result, you are significantly less restricted in everyday life (14).
Gentle massages with essential oils
Massage essential oils with herbs such as lavender, lemon balm, eucalyptus, lemon or rosemary gently onto the affected area. These have a blood circulation-enhancing and relaxing effect and have a direct influence on the pain receptors in the muscles (15).
Gentle massages promote blood circulation and muscle regeneration. (Image Source: Conscious Design/Unsplash)
The friction on the leg also generates heat in the painful area and thus further stimulates the blood circulation and allows the oils to be absorbed better and develop their effect. But be careful not to push too hard, as this can further strain the muscle.
To prevent severe muscle soreness, you should drink plenty of water on a regular basis. Depending on their age, adolescents and adults should consume between 30 and 40 ml of water per kilogram of body weight per day. For healthy adults, the simple rule of thumb is one ml of water per kcal per day. That works out to between 2.5 and 3.0 liters of water per day for an adult (18).
Protein synthesis in the muscles is responsible for healing the small tears - they need sufficient water for this.
If there is a lack of water, the process can certainly be delayed and the muscle can heal more slowly, resulting in unpleasant pain. In the worst case, it can happen that the body wants to draw the necessary water from the muscles, which leads to muscle breakdown.
Leg pain can have many causes. The most common cause is harmless muscle soreness, but in some cases serious symptoms such as thrombosis can also occur. It is advisable to monitor the symptoms. If the pain is very severe, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. But even if the pain doesn't go away, or even gets worse, you should see your doctor.
You can prevent muscle and nerve pain with regular exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet. If you are already suffering from the symptoms mentioned, simple home remedies such as heat, gentle massaging and light exercise can help to relieve them.
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