Soreness and muscle stiffness in the legs can be debilitating, especially for athletes or those who spend a lot of time on their feet. Stiff leg muscles can hinder our mobility, make us experience pain and affect how we go about our lives. From an athlete’s perspective, whether it’s Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) or actual muscle damage like a strain or tear, it can prolong recovery, reduce your ability to train, and ultimately, prevent peak athletic performance.

Recognising the symptoms of damaged leg muscles and implementing proper recovery strategies is crucial for getting back on your feet quickly, preventing further injury and performing at your best. In this post, we’re going to explore the symptoms of muscle damage and how to alleviate them.

The Causes and Symptoms of Muscle Damage & Stiffness

Leg muscle damage can manifest in various ways, depending on the severity of your injury, where in your leg it is, and how you caused it. Before exploring the symptoms of damaged leg muscles, let’s explore some of the common causes.

  • Overuse: Arguably the biggest cause of soreness and muscle inflammation in the legs, pushing your muscles too hard during exercise can lead to microscopic tears in muscle fibres. This can be even more pronounced if you properly fail to warm up and warm down when training. Typically sore leg muscles as a result of overuse will heal in 2-4 days.

  • Strain: Muscle strains occur when a muscle is stretched too far or forced to contract too forcefully, resulting in a partial tear. Symptoms of a tear from a damaged muscle in the leg include pain, weakness, and difficulty moving. Recovery time from a muscle strain can be anytime between 2 and 8 weeks.

  • Tear: A complete tear of a muscle fibre is a more serious injury and it can cause severe muscle pain in the legs, as well as swelling and bruising. You might experience difficulty walking or putting weight on the leg without crutches. Depending on the severity you can expect to be sidelined for anything from a few weeks to a couple of months. In severe cases, surgery may be required.

  • Imbalances: Weaknesses in certain muscle groups can put undue stress on others, leading to pain and tightness as your body overcompensates. These will vary in type and severity depending on your body, and a physiotherapist may be able to advise you on the best approach to take.

Some of the most common symptoms that could indicate damage and muscle inflammation in the legs include:

  • Pain: The most common symptom, it can range from a dull ache to a sharp stabbing pain when you move.
  • Tenderness: Strained and damaged muscles can be sensitive to the touch.
  • Stiffness: Reduced flexibility and difficulty moving the leg through its full range of motion.
  • Weakness: The leg may feel weak or unable to support your body weight when standing or walking.
  • Swelling & Bruising: Inflammation can cause the affected area to appear puffy. In more severe cases, or those involving impacts to the muscle, you may experience bruising as well.
White sports compression socks

Recovery: How to Reduce Muscle Pain in the Legs

You might be wondering how to relieve sore muscles in legs, and the good news is that most leg muscle damage heals on its own with proper care. Through rest and making sure you don’t exacerbate the injury, you should be back on your feet before you know. However, there are some things you can do to help speed up the recovery process:

Rest:  This is critical for allowing the muscle to repair itself naturally. Rest up and avoid any strenuous activities that can aggravate the injury. 

RICE Protocol – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation:  Apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day for the first few days as the cold temperature can help reduce swelling. An alternative is to use contrast therapy which uses cold and hot temperatures to help speed up the process.  Wrap the injured area with a compression bandage or wear compression socks to reduce swelling and finally, elevate your leg above your heart when you can to promote drainage of fluids. 
A machine like the CTC-7 machine (see below) can combine compression and contrast therapy into one simple device.

OTC Painkillers : Medications like ibuprofen or paracetamol can help manage the pain and inflammation associated with muscle soreness. Always check the label and consult a medical professional if you’re taking other medication.

Gentle stretching, massage and exercise

After the initial inflammation subsides, gentle stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion. Light massage can also help reduce muscle tension and promote healing. As time goes on, you’ll be able to incorporate active recovery and light exercise, and ramp this up until you’re fully healed.

CTC-7 In Use

The CTC-7 Machine 

Modern technology offers additional tools to support muscle recovery, and one of the best on the market is the CTC-7 Device from G&N Recovery. Combining graduated compression with hot and cold therapy (Cryotherapy, Thermotherapy and Contrast Therapy), it offers several advantages that are especially useful for elite athletes and sports organisations, as well as medical professionals treating muscle injuries.

Find out more and buy or rent CTC-7 today.

While most leg muscle damage heals on its own, some situations require medical attention. Seek professional help if you experience:

  • Sudden and unexplained muscle pain in legs, as well as severe pain and swelling could indicate a more serious injury requiring expert medical assessment and treatment.
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs could be signs of nerve damage and will require expert attention.
  • Difficulty walking or putting weight on the leg. 
  • Symptoms that don’t improve within a week may indicate further or more serious damage that requires medical advice. 

Leg muscle damage is a common occurrence, especially in athletes, but it shouldn’t sideline you for too long. By understanding the causes and symptoms and implementing proper recovery strategies, you should get back on your feet ready to tackle your next challenge.