Medical News Today: What causes heavy aching legs?

Feeling heavy legs after a workout is normal and expected. Legs that feel weighed down, stiff, and tired for no apparent reason, however, may be a sign of a condition affecting the veins.

Determining the cause will help in finding proper treatment. There may also be some useful home remedies to find relief from the symptoms.

Causes can vary in severity, and doctors will want to make a full diagnosis to be sure they are treating the symptoms correctly. In this article, we take a look at a range of these possible causes, along with treatment options for them.

Causes of heavy legs

Heavy legs can be a sign of a number of conditions or disorders in the body.

Varicose veins

Heavy legs
When legs feel weighed down or aching, it may be due to an underlying condition, such as varicose veins.

Varicose veins are veins that look more apparent, larger, and knotty than surrounding veins.

As blood circulation gets worse, blood starts to pool in the legs due to factors such as the effects of gravity and the veins losing their elasticity.

Varicose veins can appear for a number of reasons, including:

  • obesity
  • aging
  • hormonal imbalances, such as those during perimenopause and pregnancy
  • people whose occupations require them to stand or sit
  • lack of physical activity in general

Varicose veins may lead to issues such as blood clots, which in turn cause swelling and pain. They may also influence skin sores, which could be difficult to heal.

Overtraining

Feeling a bit of tiredness in the legs for a few days after a particularly intense workout is normal. However, when athletes train themselves to push past their limits on a regular basis, they risk overtraining their muscles.

Overtrained muscles do not have time to repair themselves before people use them again. The result is often sluggish, weak, or heavy muscles. Athletes, such as cyclists and runners, may complain of heavy legs if they have been pushing themselves too hard.

Nervousness and restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome often causes an uncontrollable feeling in the legs that is jittery, shaky, or numb.

The temporary remedy is often as simple as moving them. Until the legs move, they may have a heavy feeling to them.

Many people will shake their legs or tap their feet to try and relieve the symptoms, which is where the syndrome gets its name.

Chronic venous insufficiency

Heavy legs may also be a sign of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

The pressure of gravity makes the heart work harder to pump blood back up to the heart from the feet and legs. The feet and legs have a series of one-way valves designed to keep blood from falling back down.

The veins and valves in a person with CVI become weak, which can often cause complaints such as tired, heavy legs, swelling, and spider veins.

CVI may be more common in people who stand for long periods of time, as standing can put tremendous strain on the veins in the lower legs and feet.

A few risk factors play into CVI, including:

  • poor nutrition
  • extra weight
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • lack of exercise
  • pregnancy
  • aging

Peripheral arterial disease

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a type of cardiovascular disease that can affect the veins and arteries. Symptoms start to appear when fat builds up in the walls of the arteries, which makes it difficult for blood to pass through.

PAD is common in the legs, where it can partially cut off circulation to the feet and legs and cause them to ache, feel heavy, or have cramps.

Risk factors for PAD include things like high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.

Heavy legs and obesity

Man on weighing scale with doctor.
Being overweight or obese may place extra strain on the legs, causing them to feel heavy or to ache.

Being overweight or obese may influence a number of other disorders that cause heavy legs, but the heavy legs may also be an issue directly linked to the extra weight.

Carrying extra weight can put more pressure on the joints, muscles, and tendons in the leg, especially if the person stands for long periods throughout the day.

An overweight person with a sedentary lifestyle may also have circulation problems that could worsen feelings of heaviness in the legs.

Obesity is a risk factor for some of the other disorders that cause heavy legs. Losing weight may help reduce symptoms or improve the general health.

Heavy legs during pregnancy

Heavy legs are commonly experienced during pregnancy. This may be due to a combination of the extra weight the legs have to carry around and the hormonal changes a woman goes through while pregnant. Changing hormone levels may increase water retention while also reducing elasticity in the veins.

Home remedies may help relieve symptoms. For the most part, these symptoms will fade after pregnancy.

People who should pay close attention to heavy legs include pregnant women who:

  • are overweight
  • lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • have a family history of venous issues
  • work strenuously while pregnant


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Common symptoms

In addition to the feeling of having heavy legs, people may notice other symptoms in their legs. These symptoms are important to report to a doctor, as they may help with diagnosis and treatment.

Common symptoms may include:

  • dullness or numbness in the leg
  • throbbing pain in one or both legs
  • feeling coldness or tingling in the legs
  • difficulty walking or standing as the day goes on
  • swelling
  • spider veins
  • discoloration in the area, such as the leg turning pale or blue

Home remedies for heavy legs

Woman in yoga pose.
Elevating the legs and staying active may help to treat heavy legs.

Some daily habits and home remedies may help deal with symptoms before a treatment plan is in place.

Elevate the legs

When the legs are elevated, the body does not have to work as hard to pump the blood and other fluids out of the legs.

Using a reclining chair or stool to elevate the feet and legs to just above heart level may help refresh the blood in the legs and relieve some of the pressure the legs feel throughout the day.

Switch the position

Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for too long, as this could make symptoms worse. Switching the position of the body may help promote blood circulation.

Wear compression socks

Tight compression socks or compression stockings may help promote blood flow in the leg. This may be especially helpful in people who must sit or stand at work for long periods of time.

Reduce sodium intake

Reducing salt intake may reduce signs and discomfort caused by swelling in people whose legs are heavy and swollen. Doctors may also recommend that some people restrict their water intake, but this often depends on the medications they are taking.

Quit smoking

Smoking can negatively affect the circulation in the body and influence symptoms like heavy legs. Reducing or stopping the habit may help reduce or prevent some symptoms.

Avoid hot baths

Heat can widen the veins, which may make it harder for blood to flow through the legs. While soaking the feet may help in some cases, it may make some people feel worse.

Lose weight

Being overweight or obese is a risk factor in a number of the issues causing heavy legs. Losing weight may help reduce the likelihood of these symptoms.

Stay active

Increasing daily activity levels may help with a number of risk factors. Mild-to-moderate exercises, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, may help keep the blood pumping through the body and improve other risk factors like weight and blood pressure.

Be reasonable with exercise

While exercise is great for the body and mind, too much can cause harm. People should take rest days and breaks from strenuous exercise as needed to prevent overexertion.


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When to see a doctor

Occasionally feeling that the legs are too heavy is normal and not cause for concern. However, if the feeling does not go away or occurs alongside other symptoms like pain and swelling, it may be time to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

The doctor will ask about specific symptoms and medical history, and will run tests to find the cause and recommend treatment.

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