Walking seems like a gentle activity compared to running and sports involving jumping, quick stops and starts, and pivots that put intense stress on your legs.
Despite being less strenuous, walking works wonders for your health. A regular walking habit can lower your blood pressure, promote weight loss, prevent heart disease, and strengthen your immune system (to name just a few benefits).
Walking can also stress your musculoskeletal system, resulting in leg pain caused by pulled muscles, torn tendons, sprained ligaments, and stress fractures.
Our pain management and physical medicine specialists at Florida Pain Medicine have helped many people overcome leg pain. Here, we look at how walking leads to injuries and explain the top four causes of leg pain after walking.
Yes, walking causes injuries
Walking can put enough stress on your leg muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones to cause painful problems.
A leisurely walk may cause a strain or sprain if you rarely walk, stroll without wearing supportive footwear, or are out of shape.
The faster and longer you walk, the more stress you place on the soft tissues, bones, and joints. As a result, inflammation and small tears develop.
If the tissues don’t have time to rest and recover, these minor problems gradually worsen and cause leg pain that appears after you walk or exercise.
Four causes of leg pain after walking
Walkers may develop knee pain, but the following four conditions are the top causes of leg pain:
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that begin at your hip, go down the back of your thigh, and connect to your knee and lower leg.
You use the hamstrings when walking (and all other activities) as they bend your knees and extend the hips to pull your leg back.
Your risk of straining the hamstrings increases when:
- The muscles are too tight or weak
- You don’t warm up or stretch before walking
- You overuse the muscles (frequently walk without resting)
- You suddenly increase your activity level
Leg pain from a hamstring problem can become chronic if the tissues don’t heal properly.
One of the most common problems affecting walkers is Achilles tendonitis (an inflamed tendon). The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel, lifting your heel every time you take a step.
When the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed because of overuse or an injury, you have pain in the back of your leg and heel pain.
Other tendons in your leg may also cause pain because they all bear a lot of stress when you walk, making them vulnerable to inflammation and tiny tears. The inflammation persists, and the tears enlarge if you keep walking after tendonitis develops.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
DOMS is severe muscle soreness that develops 12-24 hours after walking. This type of muscle pain occurs after a walk that places more than the usual stress on your muscles. For example, you may suddenly pick up your speed or walk down hills.
In severe cases, you may also have leg swelling, joint stiffness, and a temporary reduction in muscle strength.
Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome
The IT band is a thick strip of connective tissue on the side of your thighs, running from the pelvic bone to your shinbone. The band controls your posture and stabilizes the pelvic bones.
It also tightens if you walk long distances, leading to inflammation, swelling, and pain around your knee and up and down your leg.
Leg pain and vascular problems
You should know that leg pain can indicate a blood vessel problem needing prompt or emergency attention.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot affecting your lower leg or thigh, is more likely to appear after sitting for a long time instead of during activities. It’s essential to seek emergency care if you have DVT symptoms like calf pain, cramping, swelling, and warmth.
Leg pain that begins while walking but feels better when you rest is a red flag alerting you to a clogged artery in the leg. Varicose veins may cause pain and cramping whether or not you’re walking.
Advanced help for leg pain
Our experienced team offers a wide range of treatments that help the injured tissues heal, alleviate pain, and support your return to walking. Call Florida Pain Medicine, or request an appointment online to learn more about advanced care for easing leg pain.