Most people will experience stiff, tired, or painful legs during their lifetime. For the most part the reasons for your legs feeling stiff or painful can be obvious – for example, sitting too much – and treatment is simple and can be done at home.
In this article we’ll look at the most common reasons why your legs are feeling stiff, tired, or painful before showing some exercises and home remedies you can try to alleviate the symptoms.
The Most Common Reasons for Tired, Stiff, and Painful Legs
Too Much Exercise
When you’ve done strenuous exercise, or simply did more exercise that normal, your legs can feel stiff, tired, and painful. (Your legs may even feel shaky just after doing the exercises.) This stiffness and fatigue may show up relatively quickly – especially if you didn’t do any cooling down exercises – or may only be felt the next day.
Sitting or Standing for an Extended Period with Limited Movement
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, doing no exercise can also lead to your legs being stiff, tired, and even painful. You may also notice that, if you’ve been sitting or standing for extended periods, your legs and feet may be swollen. If this is the case, keep reading for some exercises and home remedies that may just be the thing.
Caused by weak or damaged vein walls and valves, varicose veins are veins in the legs that grow larger and distorted because the blood pressure in the veins increased. Risk factors for varicose veins include:
- Overweight and obesity,
- Sitting or standing for a long time,
- Having a sedentary lifestyle that includes lots of sitting,
- Have a family history of varicose veins,
- Age: varicose veins are more common in older individuals.
Because of damaged valves in the leg veins, some of the blood that are pumped back to the heart flows back again, causing the pooling of blood and the distortion of the veins.
A muscle cramp can be defined as “a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles” and is quite common after a strenuous exercise session. Cramps can also happen when you don’t warm up or cool down properly when doing exercise or by not stretching enough.
Exercises to Relieve Tired, Stiff, and Painful Legs
Although exercising may be the last thing on your mind when your legs are stiff and tired, there are some exercises that you can do that can actually help to decrease the stiffness and ease the pain. These can be used along with some of the home remedies as well.
As a lot of us sit for hours on end during the workday with little or no moving around, we’ll start with some exercises that you can do at or next to your desk. These can also help to keep your muscles more supple for exercising after work.
Stretches and Exercises When Sitting for a Long Time or During the Workday
While sitting is bad for your overall health, there is sometimes little that we can do during a workday to get moving and take breaks. If this sounds like you, try some of these stretches and exercises that you can do. You can also – although this may be easier when you work from home – invest in a sit-stand or standing desk and move between sitting and standing throughout the day.
Stretches and Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk or In Your Home Office
These stretches and exercises will focus on stretching and working your legs and especially the calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors that tend to tighten up when you sit for a long time.
- Calf raises: Start in a standing position, holding on to the back of a chair for balance. With all your weight on your right leg, bend your left knee, so that your foot lifts from the floor. Slowly, rise onto the toes of your right foot before lowering again. Repeat 15 – 20 times before switching legs.
- Hip stretch: Remain sitting and cross your left ankle over your right knee, resting your left leg on your right leg. Keeping your left shin parallel to the floor, lean forward slowly. You’ll feel the outside of your hip stretch. Stay in that position for a minute or two before straightening up and switching legs. Note: Don’t push the stretch too far, you shouldn’t feel pain.
Home Remedies to Relieve Tired, Stiff, and Painful Legs
There are a variety of home remedies that you can use to help soothe tired, stiff, or painful legs. Whether it’s after a long day’s work or exercise, these remedies will help in no time at all.
Elevate Your Legs and Use Specific Yoga Poses
Elevating your legs when they feel tired, swollen, or heavy can help to significantly relieve these symptoms. Even just sleeping with your legs a bit elevated on a pillow can do wonders.
The yoga poses below also elevates your legs, which helps with the circulation in your legs. This makes you feel better and your legs lighter. We also chose these poses as they are easy enough for beginners, or even someone who’s never done yoga, to do.
Yoga poses to use for tired legs
- Virasana – This kneeling pose should not be done if you have had leg and/or knee injuries as it can exacerbate them and may lead to another injury. To do this pose, kneel down with your legs bent under you. Your knees should be together and your feet apart as you’re going to sit between them. If your muscles are too tight or your knees hurt at all, sit on a cushion or two to raise your body higher than your knees. Keep this position for 2 to 4 minutes. Then stretch your legs out in front of you and rest for a minute or two.
- Viparita Karani – This pose helps lymph drainage in your feet, ankles, and legs. The legs-up-the-wall pose is probably the easiest of these poses as you simply lie with your bum against the wall and with your legs straight up against the wall, keeping your arms at your side. Keep your legs relaxed and don’t lock your knees while keeping this pose for 3 to 10 minutes.
- Baddha Konasana Variation – This is the “supported butterfly pose” and is also done against the wall, like the Viparita Karani. To do this pose, lie with your bum against the wall and your legs up against the wall. Place the soles of your feet together and slowly slide your feet down the wall, keeping your knees open and the sides of your feet against the wall for support. This helps to open up your hips and relieve stress. Don’t force your feet closer to your hips, you should only feel a stretch, not pain. Keep this pose for 3 – 5 minutes.
Dry Brushing Your Legs
Dry brushing improves the circulation in your legs as well as exfoliating your skin. Use a soft body brush as dry brushing takes 10 to 15 minutes per leg. Dry brushing can also be done daily.
To dry brush your legs, use the soft body brush to “brush” your legs, starting first at your feet and working up to your thighs before brushing back to your feet. Keep doing this, pressing only very lightly on the brush, for 10 to 15 minutes before switching legs.
Once done, you can massage some lotion or body butter onto your legs to keep the skin from getting dry. The movements of massaging the body butter into your skin will further help with circulation.
Massage Your Legs with Essential Oils
Giving your legs a light massage can go a long way to relieve fatigue, stiffness, and even pain. When massaging your legs, use one or a combination of essential oils to help with circulation and moisturize your skin (we have a list of oils you can choose from below).
When massaging, use your palms, light pressure, and small, circular movements. Start at your ankle and work upwards to your thigh. You can also use your knuckles for a bit more pressure.
Essential oils that are great for leg massages:
Using Ice and Heat
Ice or heat packs can be used to ease tired, swollen, and painful legs. The ice pack can be as simple as ice cubes in a zip-lock bag inside a towel and, for a heat pack, a towel dipped in hot (not boiling!) water and dried out can be used if you don’t have a hot water bottle or another type of heat pack.
- An ice pack can ease swelling and pain in your legs, ankles, and knees.
- A hot pack can ease tired and painful muscles and feet and improve circulation.
Using Epsom Salts and Baking Soda as a Soak
The combination of Epsom salt and baking soda works well to detoxify, relax your muscles, and soothe your legs. Baking soda also has some anti-inflammatory properties.
- For a bath use 1 cup of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda
- For a foot soak use 2 tablespoons Epsom salts and 2 tablespoons baking soda
Tips to Prevent Tired, Stiff, and Painful Legs
- Try not to sit with crossed legs for an extended time.
- Take breaks as often as possible if your work requires you to sit or stand for extended periods of time.
- Rather climb stairs than take an elevator as that will also give your legs exercise, which may lead to less fatigue, swelling, and pain during the day.
- Exercise regularly.
With some changes to your daily routine to include more movement and exercise you can nip tired and stiff legs in the bud. Home remedies like soaks and massages can also become a part of your self-care rituals for those days when you’ve overextended yourself and need something extra to soothe your legs and enjoy the rest of the day!
Carin Marais is a fully bilingual language practitioner (English/Afrikaans) and a copy and content writer for a wide variety of digital and print channels. She has worked with both local and international companies on subjects as diverse as health and mindfulness, finance, beauty, décor, pets, food, and agricultural implements.