Sore Legs for No Reason: What It Means According to Science

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Sore Legs for No Reason: What It Means
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Do you have sore legs for no reason and are puzzled why you have leg pain when walking or resting? Sore hamstrings, tight calf muscles, or pain behind your knee can affect your quality of life. Throbbing leg cramps, stiff muscles, aching pains, or tingling down one leg are all types of pain associated with sore legs.

Of course, your legs aren’t sore for no reason at all. Pain is usually a symptom that something is not right. Possibly, you strained a leg muscle without realizing it, pinched a nerve in your back, or your sore leg muscles gradually developed a few days after exercising. Conditions like varicose veins, arthritis, or tendinitis can make your legs sore without being aware that these issues have caused the leg pain.

Even though you may not be aware of the reason for sore legs, it is usually possible to identify the underlying cause.

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In this article, I’m going to look at the causes why your legs appear to be sore for no reason. Knowing what is behind leg soreness can help to treat the cause of pain and prevent further leg discomfort in the future.

Why Legs Can Be Sore for No Reason

Your legs are put under a lot of pressure every day, and small seemingly insignificant injuries or tears in the muscles, ligaments, or nerves in your legs can cause pain for no apparent reason. Also, inflammation in your joints or issues with your veins could be “unseen” reasons for leg pain.

Some of the main reasons for pain in your legs without an obvious cause can include:

  • Muscle cramps and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can make your legs sore long after you have finished exercising.
  • A pinched sciatic nerve can cause shooting pains down one leg, a burning sensation, tingling or numbness, and difficulty moving your foot.
  • Varicose veins or a blood clot can cause throbbing pain in your calves, muscle cramping, or sore legs after sitting or standing.
  • Repetitive strains on your leg muscles or ligaments can cause a hamstring injury, ACL injury, or calf tightness.

Sore Leg Muscles for No Reason

If you have sore legs and can’t think of a reason why they are aching, here are some of the main causes of sore leg muscles.

Leg muscle cramp or spasm

Leg cramps or spasms can affect the muscles in the calves and cause varying degrees of pain and tightness in the lower leg for no reason. Muscle spasm is also called Charley horse and it may affect any muscle, however Charley horses are most common is the legs. Severe Charley horses can cause muscle pain that can last from a few hours to a day.

The journal Medical Hypotheses reported that leg cramping and knee pain affect many people. In fact, the wear and tear on the legs go unnoticed by many until they develop a stiff leg or lower-limb muscle pain.1

Also, the journal Georgian Medical News published a study showing that being overweight can cause leg cramps without any apparent injury. In fact, about half of overweight people report suffering from frequent leg cramps. The reasons are often associated with venous insufficiency in obese persons.2

Doctors recommend that stretching can help resolve leg cramping and reduce the frequency of nighttime cramps.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

Leg pain from delayed onset muscle soreness could happen a couple of days after exercising and so it may seem that there is no reason for the pain.

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According to the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, muscle soreness doesn’t always happen immediately after exercising. Leg aches and pains can develop between 24 and 48 hours after strenuous exercise. The pain usually affects the muscles below the knees and can cause cramping, pain when moving one or both legs, and loss of muscle strength.3

To help relieve sore leg muscles that have developed for no apparent reason, doctors recommend using moist heating pads to relieve the pain. Please read my article for more information on how heat treatments can soothe muscle pain.

Sore Legs for No Reason: Nerve Related Issues

You may have sore legs without knowing why if you have issues with nerves in your lower back or hip.

Sciatica

You could experience extremely sore leg muscles for no reason if you suffer from sciatica. You may not realize it, but pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause intense throbbing pain in one leg and your lower back. In some cases, sciatica can cause leg soreness that reaches your foot or toes.

The journal BMJ reports that the most common symptom of sciatica is leg pain radiating from the lower back. In the majority of cases, the sore leg caused by sciatica is the result of a herniated disc in the lumbar region that presses on the sciatic nerve. Other symptoms of sciatica can include:4

  • Tingling in the feet or toes
  • Constant pain in one buttock
  • Shooting pain down one leg
  • Weakness of the leg

If you think that sciatica is the cause of your extremely sore muscles for no reason, you can try these yoga stretches or exercising with a tennis ball to release the sciatic nerve. Other ways to treat the symptoms of sciatica include using a foam roller for back pain and soaking in a bath of Epsom salt.

Piriformis syndrome

Leg soreness with no apparent cause could be caused by tightness in your leg muscles that put pressure on your sciatic nerve.

The publication StatPearls says that piriformis syndrome is when the muscle in your buttock becomes inflamed or irritated. This can affect the sciatic nerve causing aching pain in one leg. Piriformis syndrome can cause lower thigh pain and tingling or numbness in the lower leg.5

Stretching and warming up before active physical activity can help to prevent leg and buttock pain. You can also try using some essential oils for muscle pain. Peppermint oil, chamomile oil, or lavender oil are just some essential oils that help to relax tight muscles and ease pain.

Pinched nerve in hip

Because your legs contain an intricate network of nerves, a pinched nerve in your hip or lower back can cause extreme soreness and unexplained leg pain.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, a pinched nerve can cause pain and tenderness along the nerve pathway. This can cause burning pain down one or both legs, aching legs, muscle weakness, or a sensation of pins and needles.6

Throbbing Leg Pain for No Reason: Vein Related Issues and Blood Clots

Throbbing aches or soreness in your lower legs can be caused by issues related to your blood circulation and veins.

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Varicose veins

Varicose veins can cause a lot of discomfort in your legs that seem to cause random muscle soreness.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health say that varicose veins are swollen or twisted veins, usually in the leg. You may not realize that varicose veins are the cause of aching leg pain because veins that don’t look bad can result in deep throbbing pain. Usually, the feeling of heaviness in the legs is worst towards the end of the day.7

Varicose veins may cause your legs to start aching for no seeming reason during the night. This can sometimes feel like cramping in your calves or itchiness on the back of your leg.

To help get rid of spider veins and varicose veins, you can try to use a blend of essential oils to help improve blood flow in your legs. Also, moderate physical activity, lying down with your legs raised, or wearing comfortable shoes or try these tips to help improve the condition of varicose veins.

Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)

Blood clot in your leg can be the cause of an unexplained pain or burning sensation in your calf or thigh. You can’t see a blood clot and this means that this reason for sore legs isn’t apparently obvious. In fact, only when the blood clot shows other serious symptoms does a person understands why he/she has sore legs.

According to the Journal of Blood Medicine, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) happens when blood clot develops in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg or the thigh. In many cases, DVT doesn’t show any symptoms at all. However, unexplained lower leg pain and calf tenderness can be one of the first signs. Along with heavy aching in the calf, a person might notice their legs or feet are swollen and warm to touch.8

A blood clot in your veins can have potentially fatal results. Therefore, it’s important to seek prompt medical care if you notice any signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In fact, pain in the calves is one of the 7 types of pain you should never ignore.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Having sore calves for no reason could be due to peripheral artery disease. PAD develops when arteries in the legs become narrowed because of a buildup of plaque.

The journal Archives of Medical Science explains that peripheral artery disease in the legs can explain the reason for leg pain while walking. If you have PAD, you may also experience leg muscle fatigue after exercising. In serious cases, peripheral artery disease in the legs and feet can lead to ulcers, lack of circulation, and gangrene.9

To prevent symptoms of PAD, it’s important to exercise regularly to improve blood circulation. This will not just help keep your vascular system healthy but also help prevent coronary heart disease.

Tight Calf Muscle for No Reason

Why can your calf muscles be sore for no reason? Let’s look closer at a few of the most common reasons that you may not have thought about.

Shin splints

You can have calf muscle pain and throbbing shins for no reason if you have shin splints. The reason that many don’t think of shin splints causing calf muscle pain is that they can be caused by incorrect footwear, flat feet, or weak core muscles.

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According to Dr. Tyler Wheeler on WebMD, shin splints can cause inflammation in the calf muscles along the edge of your shin. This can also make the front of your calves sore when walking, running, or jumping. Other complications of shin splints are restricted movement of the affected leg and muscle weakness.10

Achilles tendinitis

You could experience tight calf muscles for no reason if you have a damage to your Achilles tendon. The reason that many people don’t think about this as a cause of shooting pain in lower leg muscle is that damage can occur for no specific reason.

Doctors from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons say that a major cause of Achilles tendinitis is repetitive strain. Very often, there is no specific injury that damages the Achilles tendon. However, the result is tightness and stiffness in the calf muscle. Also, you may have severe lower leg pain a day or two after exercising.11

Resting and ice on the affected leg can usually help to relieve soreness in the calf muscle.

Other Causes of Aching Legs for No Reason

Hamstring injury

Even though a hamstring injury sounds like an obvious reason for sore legs, some types of hamstring injuries cause leg pain without an identifiable cause.

Dr. Benjamin Wedro on eMedicineHealth says that many people don’t remember they have damaged their hamstring. Also, because the hamstring pain can develop gradually, you could be mistaken to think that you have leg pain for no reason. A hamstring injury can also cause swelling and tenderness in the upper thigh.12

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury

Repetitive strain on your knee over a period of time can cause you to think that you have leg pain for no reason. Repetitive strain injuries can cause ligament and muscles pain, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

For example, the Journal of Orthopaedic Research reported that frequent stress injuries on your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in your knee can cause strain when moving your knee. This can cause fatigue and weakness in the knee joint that can lead to a more severe ACL injury.13

Diabetic neuropathy

Diabetes can cause nerve damage in your limbs resulting in sudden pain or stabbing jolts in your legs or arms for seemingly no reason.

Doctors from the National Institutes of Health say that pain, tingling, or loss of feeling in the legs can affect diabetic nerve disorders. It’s important to control blood sugar levels to help prevent nerve damage caused by diabetes.14

Sore Muscles for No Reason

Very often the specific cause of sore muscles can be difficult to pinpoint because it either happens gradually or is connected to an underlying medical condition.

Repetitive strain injury

Insignificant, but frequent injuries to your muscles can cause unexplained muscle pain. Sometimes, the onset of gradual pain can happen over the course of a week or two, or you could suddenly have sore tight muscles.

According to Dr. Laurence Knott on Patient.info, repetitive strain injuries can affect any of the muscles in your body. Repetitively overusing muscles can gradually develop painful and uncomfortable symptoms. These include:15

  • Deep throbbing pain in your muscles
  • Muscle tightness
  • Tingling
  • Numbness

Over time, the pain can be present in the affected muscle even when there is no apparent reason for the soreness.

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Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that can affect your muscles in any part of your body including your leg muscles. Because many doctors don’t know what exactly causes this type of chronic pain, it can be described as pain without a specific reason.

A study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology reported on the connection between muscle pain and fibromyalgia. Many fibromyalgia sufferers complain of widespread muscle pain for no reason – meaning that there was no obvious trigger for the pain. Studies also revealed that fibromyalgia disrupts sleep patterns, affects gait, and causes muscle weakness.16

For more information on how to manage fibromyalgia symptoms, please read my article on foods to avoid when living with chronic pain and D-Ribose for chronic pain.

Lyme disease

Symptoms of Lyme disease can occur weeks or even months after the tick bite and means that a person could think there is no reason for muscle pain.

Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks and is common in the U.S. and Europe. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, symptoms of Lyme disease can start to occur as late as 30 days after the bite. This means that many people may not even realize they have been bitten. After a rash develops, joint pain may occur, especially the knee joint can start to swell and become painful 2 to 4 weeks after the first symptoms.17

Doctors also say that recurrent bouts of muscle pain can happen for many months after the bite and even develop into chronic arthritis.

Lupus

Autoimmune conditions can cause varying degrees of muscle pain and weakness long before the condition is diagnosed.

The journal Arthritis Care & Research reports that systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can cause unexplained muscle pain. In some cases, lupus can cause physical disability because of leg pain when walking and weak muscle strength.18

Leg, Calf, and Thigh Pain: Other Causes

Some other conditions can cause leg pain and calf muscle tightness that may or may not be quite obvious.

Arthritis

The journal Sports Health says knee osteoarthritis can affect the hip muscles, hamstrings and quadriceps. This can result in joint pain, leg muscle tightness, and weakness of the legs. There could also be other factors that are difficult to diagnose that cause both legs to ache for no obvious reason.19

Baker’s cyst

Swelling behind your knee and leg pain for no obvious reason could be due to a Baker’s cyst. You will know you have a Baker’s cyst if you have bulging cysts behind your knee. Doctors say that fluid that fills the knee joint can also cause a sharp pain in your knee.20

Gout

Without realizing it, gout can also affect your leg and cause sore legs and muscle tightness. The journal Arthritis Care & Research says that gout flares can cause severe foot pain that can impair a person’s gait and can result in a temporary disability.21

Shingles

You could be puzzled why you have shooting pains in both legs for no apparent reason if shingles is to blame for your leg pain. The journal BMC Research Notes says that the herpes zoster virus can affect the spinal cord and cause sciatica-like pain symptoms.22

When to See a Doctor if Your Legs Hurt for No Apparent Reason

If can be very frustrating if you have sore legs for no reason. In some cases, you need to see a doctor to find out exactly what is causing one or both legs to ache.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that if you don’t know why your legs are sore, you should see your doctor in the following circumstances:

  • Unexplained muscle pain, knee pain, or hip pain
  • Swelling, redness, or warmth in your calf
  • Your leg is swollen and you don’t know why
  • Both legs seem swollen and this is accompanied by breathing difficulties
  • Pain, tenderness, or joint pain that doesn’t go away after a few days of using home remedies
  • You have serious leg pain for no reason

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. Med Hypotheses.1988 Jan;25(1):35-41.
  2. Georgian Med News.2009 Jan;(166):51-4.
  3. J Sports Med Phys Fitness.1994 Sep;34(3):203-16.
  4. BMJ. 2007 Jun 23; 334(7607): 1313–1317.
  5. NCBI. Piriformis syndrome.
  6. MayoClinic. Pinched nerve.
  7. NCBI. Leg varicose veins: symptoms.
  8. J Blood Med. 2011; 2: 59–69.
  9. Arch Med Sci. 2012 May 9; 8(2): 375–388.
  10. WebMD. Lower leg pain: causes and treatments.
  11. OrthoInfo. Achilles tendinitis.
  12. eMedicineHealth. Pulled hamstring.
  13. J Orthop Res.2016 Dec;34(12):2059-206.
  14. NCBI. Diabetic neuropathy.
  15. PatientInfo. Repetitive strain injuries.
  16. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Sep; 60(9): 2839–2844.
  17. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2011 Feb; 19(2): 91–100.
  18. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2015 Jan; 67(1): 120–127.
  19. Sports Health. 2012 Jul; 4(4): 284–292.
  20. MayoClinic. Baker’s cyst.
  21. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken).2012 Mar;64(3):384-8.
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One Response to Sore Legs for No Reason: What It Means According to Science

  1. Lori says:

    Night time cramps are often a sign of magnesium deficiency. There are at least 14 different types of magnesium, some of which are not good for you or useless. One reason Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) are helpful is because they are easily absorbed. Many vitamin formulas include magnesium oxide because it is cheap, but has a poor abstract rate.

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