We’ve all been there: you’re pushing yourself extra hard while working out, despite the pain you feel. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell whether what you’re feeling is regular muscle soreness or a more serious leg weakness.
There are many factors that may contribute to leg weakness while exercising. It is especially important to keep it in mind if you have a condition or an injury that may predispose you to muscle weakness.
Exercising regularly without overly straining your muscles and tendons is a good way to keep your leg muscles strong. However, it’s important to pay attention to your own body’s response to various exercises, as any individual will react differently. Additionally, if you notice a persistent problem or a pain that is not going away, you should confer with your doctor and get their advice about how to proceed.
What Is Muscle Soreness?
Anyone can experience muscle soreness, no matter how physically fit they are. It can feel uncomfortable, but this discomfort should subside after a couple of days after the physical activity at the most.
There is also a condition called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which a usually mild but predominant reason for poorer performance in sports. The exact cause is still unknown, but typical symptoms include soreness peaking around 48 to 72 hours after exercise.
The science has shown that a particular type of exercise, called “eccentric exercise,” can lead to DOMS because of the inflammatory response it triggers in your body.
What Conditions Can Lead to Leg Weakness?
There are a number of health conditions that may make you more likely to experience more serious leg weakness than your typical soreness. While some of them are rare, it is good to be aware of the possibilities if you feel that your leg weakness is regularly interfering with your ability to exercise or even go about your daily activities.
For example, although rare, Guillain-Barré Syndrome can cause leg weakness due to neurological issues. Another example is multiple sclerosis (MS). People with the condition who experience MS leg weakness may have second thoughts about going to the gym, even though exercising is one of the main ways to retain leg strength.
You could also experience leg weakness due to a pinched nerve, which could result in a sensation of pain radiating all the way down your leg. Specifically, irritation of a nerve in your lower back may lead to this type of pain.
The type of condition or injury you are experiencing will impact your course of action. Either by mitigating symptoms or strengthening your muscles. It’s important to check with your healthcare provider before deciding to go forward with exercises that could potentially injure you further. Having a detailed account of your symptoms reviewed by a trusted professional is the best way to be sure about your plan going forward.
Exercises to Build Your Leg Strength
There are many ways to exercise your legs during a workout, but in order to best build your strength, you should vary the kinds of exercises you do. Walking or running in a place with hills can be an effective way to build muscle in your legs.
You can also maximize the effects of your workouts by combining walking or running with strength training and other kinds of aerobic workouts, like swimming. If you want to work in a recreational and social aspect as well, to keep you motivated, you may be interested in playing a team sport, like soccer.
If you feel that your progress in your leg strengthening journey has stagnated, it might be time to add some resistance training into the mix. This can include squats, lunges, or leg curls. Make sure as you do these exercises that you are practicing the correct form. Because you may inadvertently cause other problems, such as knee pain, to arise from doing them incorrectly.
There are several health benefits to building your leg strength besides just the reduction of pain. For example, stronger legs have been associated with better gait speed in older adults, which is a predictor of other health outcomes.
Know When to Stop
It’s important to listen to your body, especially when you feel discomfort or pain. Using a muscle or tendon too strenuously can cause your body to send you a signal to stop, and it’s wise to listen to it so you don’t injure yourself further.
It can feel frustrating to have to stop exercising when you don’t want to. You may feel that you are stagnating your athletic progress or might be comparing yourself to others. However, it is best to look out for your long-term wellbeing, and not to overwork yourself at the cost of later health outcomes.
Advances in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): Part I: Pathogenesis and Diagnostics, National Center for Biotechnology Information
Guillain-Barré Syndrome Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sciatica, BMJ Clinical Review
Managing MS Leg Weakness, MyMSTeam
Is There Such a Thing as ‘Good Pain’ and When Should You Listen to Your Body?, Cleveland Clinic
Strengthen Your Legs, Duke University
A Behavioral Mechanism of How Increases in Leg Strength Improve Old Adults’ Gait Speed, PLoS One
Muscle Tenderness From Exercise: Mechanisms?, The Journal of Physiology
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