We've all been there, haven't we? That deep, nagging pain in our legs after a heavy workout, a long walk, or maybe just from our daily activities. It's frustrating, especially when it interrupts our routines and keeps us from doing the things we love.
The good news? Most of the time, leg muscle pain can be treated right in the comfort of your home. But it's important to understand what's causing your leg muscle pain before you can treat it effectively. Our bodies and symptoms are unique, and what might bring relief to one person might not necessarily work for another.
That's where we come in. This is your comprehensive guide to understanding, diagnosing, and treating leg muscle pain. With a mix of natural remedies for muscle and joint pain, stretches, and (in some cases) medical treatments, you'll be on your way to relief in no time.
7 Common Causes of Leg Muscle Pain
Leg muscle pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions and injuries, so let's take a closer look at what could be causing your discomfort:
1. Leg Muscle Cramps
If you've ever experienced a sudden, painful tightening in your leg muscles, then chances are you've had a run-in with leg cramps, also known as Charley horses. These involuntary muscle contractions can happen to anyone, but they are particularly common during exercise or at night while sleeping.
Leg cramps can be incredibly uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep or daily activities. While the exact cause of leg cramps is not always known, they can be triggered by muscle fatigue, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or nerve damage. Leg cramps are easily treated at home.
2. Shin Splints
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are a common condition that causes pain along the shinbone (tibia). This discomfort is often felt during physical activity and can range from a dull ache to sharp pain. Shin splints can be caused by multiple factors, including overuse, improper footwear, a sudden increase in activity level, or even biomechanical issues. Shin splints typically aren't a serious cause for concern, and you can treat them from home in 2–4 weeks.
3. Fractures & Stress Fractures
When it comes to leg muscle pain, fractures and stress fractures are common concerns. Fractures occur when excessive force is applied to a bone, causing it to break. Stress fractures, on the other hand, are small cracks that develop from overuse or repetitive stress on a bone. Both can lead to sharp leg pain and limited mobility that will require medical attention.
4. Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the Achilles tendon, the large tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. It often occurs due to overuse or repetitive strain on the tendon, such as excessive running or jumping.
Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain and stiffness in the back of the heel, especially in the morning or after prolonged periods of rest. The area may also be tender to the touch and swollen. Achilles tendonitis can generally be treated from home or with physical therapy and orthotics, but some cases may require surgical intervention.
5. Hamstring Strain
Hamstring strain is a common injury that occurs when the muscles at the back of the thigh are stretched or torn. This can happen during physical activities that involve sudden movements or excessive stretching, such as running or jumping. The symptoms of a hamstring strain include pain, tenderness, and weakness in the affected area. Hamstring strains typically aren't serious and can be treated from home in 3–8 weeks.
6. Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatic nerve pain, also known as sciatica, is a condition characterized by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the back of each leg. When this nerve is compressed or irritated, it can lead to symptoms such as sharp or shooting pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.
Sciatic nerve pain can be caused by various factors including herniated discs, spinal stenosis, muscle spasms, or injury, and it can significantly impact a person's mobility and quality of life. Sciatica treatment can involve home remedies, stretches, rest, and physical therapy.
7. Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that usually appear on the legs and feet.They're a common concern, affecting 3 in 10 adults in the UK. They occur when the valves in the veins malfunction, causing blood to pool and the veins to become swollen and visible.
Some common warning signs and symptoms of varicose veins include visible, bulging veins, aching or throbbing pain in the legs, a heavy or tired feeling in the legs, itching or burning sensations around the veins, and muscle cramps or swelling in the lower legs and ankles. Varicose veins are typically not serious and can be treated from home, but if the pain is persistent, they will require medical attention.
Which Health Conditions Can Cause Leg Pain?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can cause leg muscle pain, discomfort, or cramps, especially during physical activity. It occurs when the blood vessels that supply the legs become narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of plaque. This decreases blood flow and oxygen to the leg muscles, resulting in pain.
PAD requires medical attention, so if you regularly experience persistent leg pain or cramping, especially during exercise or walking, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. This condition can cause leg pain, swelling, and redness. If left untreated, DVT can lead to complications such as pulmonary embolism. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have DVT.
Compartment syndrome occurs when there's increased pressure within a muscle compartment, leading to pain. This condition can be caused by trauma, repetitive movements, or even intense exercise. Symptoms include severe pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. If left untreated, compartment syndrome can cause muscle and nerve damage, so it's important to see a doctor if your leg pain is severe and debilitating.
How to Treat Leg Muscle Pain
When it comes to treating leg muscle pain, there are a variety of options available, plenty of which you can do from home! Let's take a look:
The RICE Method
The most common and effective method for relieving muscle pain is the RICE method:
Rest — Listen to your body, take it easy, and avoid putting too much strain on the painful muscle.
Ice — Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth to the painful area. Use it for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
Compression — Consider using a compression bandage or sleeve. This can help reduce swelling and support the muscle.
Elevation — If possible, elevate the leg to help reduce swelling.
This a simple, easy formula that you can do from home to promote healing and flexibility. It's most effective when applied as soon as possible after an injury.
Stretches are a powerful tool in combating leg muscle pain. When we stretch, we're essentially doing three things: increasing blood flow to the muscle, promoting flexibility, and helping to release muscle tension. Increased blood flow aids in delivering nutrients to muscles and aids in the repair of microtears that occur during strenuous activity.
As your muscles become more flexible, they're less prone to injury and strain.
Here are some stretches you can try:
Quadriceps Stretch (Front Thigh):
- How to do it: Stand on one leg, hold onto a wall or chair for balance. Bend the other knee, bringing your heel towards your buttocks. Hold your ankle and gently pull it closer while keeping your knees together.
- Good for: Pain in the front of the thigh, especially after activities like running, squatting, or cycling.
Hamstring Stretch (Back of Thigh):
- How to do it: Sit on the ground with one leg extended straight and the other bent, foot against the inner thigh of the straight leg. Lean forward slightly from the hips towards the foot of the straightened leg. Keep your back straight and hold.
- Good for: Pain or tightness in the back of the thigh, often a result of activities like sprinting, jumping, or even prolonged sitting.
- How to do it: Stand facing a wall. Place your hands on the wall and extend one leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the ground. Press the heel of the extended foot into the floor and lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- Good for: Calf tightness or pain, commonly arising from activities like uphill walking, running, or wearing high heels.
Muscle Pain Relief Gel
One of the go-to treatments for sports injuries is a muscle pain relief gel. These gels work by providing fast and targeted relief to the affected area, without having to pass through your digestive system like oral painkillers. Simply apply the gel to the affected area and gently massage it in for relief.
HEMPE muscle gels are all-natural formulas containing CBD — a powerful ingredient derived from the hemp plant. It has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-itch properties that can be very effective in relieving aches and pains in the muscles and joints. (You can learn more about it in our guide to CBD for Pain Relief: How & Why It Works.)
HEMPE Hot muscle gel is especially good for relieving cramps, spasms, and aches in the legs, using ingredients like clove, menthol, eucalyptus, and vitamin E to provide fast and effective relief. It has a stimulating, warming effect on your leg muscles, and it absorbs into the skin quickly for instant relief.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers can be effective for alleviating leg muscle pain. They work by reducing the production of prostaglandins, substances in the body that cause inflammation and pain.
Types of leg pain they're good for: OTC painkillers are particularly useful for acute pain, such as pain after a rigorous workout, minor strains, or sprains. They can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and improve mobility in the short term.
When they're not so good: While beneficial for short-term pain relief, OTC painkillers are not recommended for chronic pain management. Long-term use can lead to various side effects. For instance, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can increase the risk of stomach ulcers or heart issues. Acetaminophen (paracetamol), when overused, can cause liver damage. Hence, for chronic leg pain or if you find yourself relying on OTC painkillers frequently, it's essential to consult a physician to explore safer, long-term solutions.
More helpful reading: A Guide to Natural Pain Relief
Hot & Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy is another widely used remedy for sports injuries. By applying a heating pad or taking a warm bath, you can help relax tight muscles and improve blood circulation to the injured area. On the other hand, applying ice or a cold pack can reduce inflammation and numb the area, providing pain relief. Alternating both hot and cold treatments can provide effective and fast relief — simply apply a hot treatment for 3–4 minutes, then a cold one for 1–2 minutes, and continue alternating for up to 20 minutes.
You can also try hot and cold therapy by alternating HEMPE's hot & ice muscle gels, for effective treatment wherever you go.
Flex got involved with HEMPE after Arnold Sports UK where it took quite of bit of effort getting through security to let him try the HEMPE gels and to give him a business card.— HEMPE (@hempehelps) August 18, 2023
Flex phoned later from the airport saying "those gels work." and the rest is history. pic.twitter.com/6LiGxpMXTR
Massage not only provides immediate relief from leg muscle pain but also supports the body's natural healing mechanisms. When applied correctly, massage can:
Increase blood flow. Improved circulation means more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles, accelerating the healing of microtears and easing muscle fatigue.
Release muscle tension. Direct pressure and kneading techniques help in releasing tight muscle fibers, knots, and adhesions, offering immediate relief from discomfort and speeding up muscle recovery.
Flush toxins. Massage aids in the lymphatic drainage process, helping to remove lactic acid and other metabolic waste products that accumulate in muscles after physical activity.
Promote relaxation. Beyond the physical benefits, massage also has a calming effect on the nervous system. It can reduce the production of stress hormones, promoting a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
You can go for professional massage therapy or try self-massage techniques at home to help relieve your discomfort.
Professional Treatments for Chronic Leg Muscle Pain
For some cases of leg muscle pain, home treatments might not provide enough relief. Here are some professional treatment options for leg muscle pain that might help you:
Physiotherapy. A trained physiotherapist offers personalized exercises, stretches, and techniques to restore mobility, strength, and function. They also provide guidance on posture and movement to prevent future injuries.
Acupuncture. An ancient Chinese practice where fine needles are inserted at specific points to stimulate the body's natural pain-relief mechanisms, improve circulation, and reduce muscle tension.
Chiropractic care. While primarily focused on spinal adjustments, chiropractors also offer treatments to align joints, reduce muscle tension, and promote overall musculoskeletal health.
Sports massage therapy. A deeper, more targeted massage technique that addresses muscle and tendon injuries, improving blood flow and accelerating healing.
Orthopedic surgery. For severe cases, such as torn ligaments or muscle ruptures, surgical interventions might be necessary to restore function.
Dry needling. Similar to acupuncture, but targets trigger points in muscles using thin needles to release knots and reduce pain.
Electrotherapy. Techniques like Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) use electric currents to stimulate nerves, reducing pain perception.
Ultrasound Therapy. Uses sound waves to penetrate tissues, promoting healing, and reducing inflammation and pain.
When to Call the Doctor
Leg muscle pain is very common, especially after intense physical activity or exercise. It's not usually a cause for concern, but there are situations when it's important to seek medical attention. Here are some instances when you should consider calling your doctor:
- Persistent pain. If you're experiencing leg muscle pain that doesn't go away with rest and self-care measures, it's a good idea to consult your doctor. Chronic pain could be a sign of an underlying condition that needs professional attention.
- Severe pain. If the pain in your leg muscles is severe and debilitating, it's crucial to reach out to your doctor. This level of pain may indicate a more serious injury or condition that requires immediate medical intervention.
- Sharp pain or numbness. If you're experiencing sharp, shooting pains or numbness in your leg muscles, it's important to seek medical help. These symptoms could be indicative of nerve damage or other underlying issues that need to be addressed.
- Swelling or redness. If your leg muscles are swollen, red, or warm to the touch, it could be a sign of an infection or inflammation. In such cases, consulting with a healthcare professional is recommended.
Your doctor will be able to provide you with the necessary guidance and treatment options to help you find relief and address any underlying issues.
The Bottom Line on Leg Muscle Pain
In wrapping up, leg muscle pain, whether from strenuous activity or everyday life, is a common ailment that most of us experience. While professional treatments such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care offer specialised solutions, many pains can be effectively managed at home.
By incorporating stretching, massage, and over-the-counter painkillers responsibly, you can find significant relief.
However, in the vast array of home remedies, there's a growing appreciation for natural solutions. HEMPE CBD muscle gels are a powerful option, backed by 60+ years of research and many happy customers.
Infused with the therapeutic properties of CBD, these gels not only target pain and inflammation but also promote a soothing sensation, free from the potential side effects of synthetic medicines.