How to Treat Sore Legs

We’ve all experienced sore legs at some point in our lives; whether it was caused by a long car trip, a sports activity, or an extensive workout. Treating soreness in the legs isn’t as difficult as most of us would think, but the type of treatment that is used really depends on what’s going on inside the leg. For instance, the course of treatment you would use to treat tired muscles after a long day of activity different from what you would do to treat a strained muscle. To get a better idea of what options you have in treating sore legs, consider first what type of condition you’re dealing with.

Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is a very common injury among athletes and individuals who suddenly begin a rigorous workout routine. A muscle strain is the term used to describe a muscle or tendon that has been torn due to sudden and excessive use of the muscle(s), such as quickly lifting something awkward or too heavy. It can also be the result of improper form while playing sports. Muscle strain in the legs often occurs either in the thigh, just above the knee, or in the calf. The basic symptoms of muscle strain include immediate pain after the injury or a buildup of pain or discomfort shortly after, tightness and pain while the leg is not being used, swelling, and weakness. It may be difficult to use the muscles for a while and, if the tear was severe enough to rupture blood vessels, bruising may occur around the affected area.

There is a nifty anagram that you can use to help you remember the treatments for muscle strain: RICE. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The first course of treatment is to stop moving and take your weight off of the leg as soon as you start to feel pain. Apply an ice pack to the sore muscle for about 20 minutes at one-hour intervals. Stop icing after a few hours. Ideally the muscle should be compressed with something breathable such as ace bandages or a compression garment which will cut back on swelling and help to stabilize the muscle while it knits back together. The final stage in relieving sore legs due to strains is to elevate them above heart level periodically throughout the day and night. As long as the legs are elevated they body won’t be able to allow blood to pool there which can drastically cut back on uncomfortable swelling.

Extended Use of the Legs

Sore legs can also be the result of overuse, such as running, weight lifting, swimming, and any other activity that you might do that doesn’t result in a full-on tear of your muscles. Many of us have known what it feels like when we neglect the ever-important stretching before sports. Failing to stretch the muscles can render them tight and unprepared for the blood circulation that happens when we’re physically active. It’s also possible for a similar soreness to develop when we lose track of time while playing sports, exercising, or if we simply ignore the signs that our muscles send out when they start to become taxed. 

Treating muscles that have been thoroughly tried and tested is quite a bit easier than treating a muscle strain and the recovery time is much shorter. Achy, sore legs can reap a lot of benefits from a nice soak in a warm bath. Epsom salts with added essential oil can be sprinkled liberally into the bath water to help soothe and relax your sore muscles. Bath salts that contain lavender, eucalyptus, mint, tea tree, or menthol are excellent choices for soothing overworked leg muscles. Run the water as warm as you can comfortably stand and allow your legs to soak, completely relaxed, for at least 20 minutes or until the water becomes tepid. Once your legs are dry it is the ideal moment to rub down the sore muscles with a sports or menthol rub. Get a good night’s rest to ensure that your muscles get a good start on the recovery process.

Research has shown that continuing to work through the discomfort with gentle exercise can help the muscles to heal a bit more quickly. This is because the exercise pumps more blood and oxygen to the muscles which provides them with the nutrients and energy needed to repair. It can also be helpful to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or naproxen, which will reduce your discomfort and help cut back on any swelling.

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms are a very common cause behind soreness in the legs, especially the calf area. A muscle spasm, which is also known as a “charley horse,” is an uncontrollable contraction of muscle that is downright painful to experience. The pain is localized to a specific point in the muscle that is extremely taught when pressed upon or massaged. The cramping sensation can last several minutes and may return at random intervals. Muscle spasms can occur at any time but seem to occur more while a person is asleep or performing a rigorous activity such as swimming, biking, or running.

To treat a muscle spasm stop moving the leg(s) as soon as the pain hits. Immediately try to stretch out the muscle to encourage it to relax. Apply a heat pack or a warm compress to the muscle while you ride out the cramp. After the pain has subsided you may want to switch to using an ice pack to numb off the rest of the pain. Cramping usually happens as the result of an electrolyte imbalance. It’s important to drink loads of water when you’ve been sweating, but by the time you start experiencing cramps your body is already low on electrolytes, which are essential minerals and vitamins that can be lost through sweat. Electrolyte drinks can be purchased at most grocery stores and can go a long way to relieving muscle spasms and prevent them from returning.