A person may feel a burning sensation in certain muscles when lifting weights or doing other strenuous exercises. This is typically due to the release of lactic acid. A person may also feel this when they try a new exercise or start exercising more often. The soreness and burning sensation may be delayed.
When your body is working at its greatest capacity, your muscles are not able to get enough oxygen to convert food to energy, causing lactic acid to be produced and built up in the muscle, leading to that burning feeling.
One of the most common forms of pain or discomfort we feel during strenuous exercise is a burning sensation in our lungs or muscles that goes away shortly after we cease the activity. This is caused by a build-up of lactic acid.
What is a leg-burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation can result from a number of causes, including damage to nerves in the legs from exposure to extreme heat or cold or to toxic substances. Leg burning sensation might also result from a circulation problem that impairs blood flow to the legs, a leg injury, or intense exercise. Another possible cause of leg-burning sensation is meralgia paresthetica, which is a pain in the outer thigh due to compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, one of the main nerves within the thigh. Chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, can also cause the sensation of burning in the legs.
Alternatively, leg-burning sensation may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the peripheral nerves that relay signals between the body and the brain and spinal cord lose function. Peripheral neuropathy can be due to a number of specific diseases and disorders, including alcoholism, diabetes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune nerve disorder. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy has no known cause.
A burning feeling may be the only symptom experienced or it may be accompanied by tingling (paresthesia) and numbness. The duration and course of leg-burning sensation can vary widely, depending on the underlying condition. Leg burning sensation caused by an injury often has a sudden onset, while leg burning sensation resulting from peripheral neuropathy develops slowly and persists or worsens over time.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a sudden leg burning sensation is accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of your body; a change in the level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of a stroke. Also, if your leg burning sensation is a result of a severe burn, seek immediate medical care (call 911).
If your leg burning sensation is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with a leg-burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the legs also involve other body systems.
Leg symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms affecting the legs including:
- Redness, warmth, or swelling
Meralgia paresthetica symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms when caused by meralgia paresthetica (pain or numbness in the outer thigh). Symptoms of meralgia paresthetica include:
- Aching or pain in the groin or buttocks
- Outer thigh pain
- Sensitivity to touch
- Symptoms on one side of the body
- Tingling or numbness in the outer thigh
Other symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Changes in sensation
- Difficulty walking
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Foot problems, such as ulcers and bone and joint pain
- Impaired coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Nerve pain
- Tingling, numbness, or other unusual sensations in the legs
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
Sudden leg burning sensation accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of the body can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have leg burning sensation along with other serious symptoms including:
- Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
- Change in mental status, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations, and delusions
- Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
- Paralysis or inability to move a body part
- Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain
- Worst headache of your life
What causes a leg-burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation can be caused by nerve or skin damage in the legs and surrounding tissues. Burns from chemicals or extreme heat, as well as exposure to poisonous substances, may damage the nerves in the skin, resulting in a sensation of leg burning.
Damage to the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy) can also cause a leg-burning sensation. Peripheral neuropathy may be due to specific diseases or conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism, that can affect nerve health, or it may have no known cause.
Physical causes of leg-burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may be due to physical causes including:
- Burns, including sunburn
- Exposure to cold
- Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds
- High-intensity exercise
- Leg injury
- Pressure on nerve
Diseases or disorders causing leg burning sensation
A number of diseases can cause burning legs including:
- Alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with excessive alcohol consumption)
- Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
- Meralgia paresthetica (pain in outer thigh due to nerve compression)
- Multiple sclerosis (a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
- Shingles (reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which remains in the body in an inactive state following chickenpox)
- Spinal stenosis, disc disease, or other conditions of the spine
- The systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
- Vitamin deficiencies
Serious or life-threatening causes of leg-burning sensation
In some cases, a leg-burning sensation may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of leg-burning sensation
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your leg burning sensation including:
- How long have you felt the burning sensation in your leg?
- Where do you feel the burning sensation?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of leg-burning sensation?
Because leg burning sensation can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Brain damage (if the sensation of leg-burning is due to stroke)
- Chronic pain
- Loss of limb
- Permanent nerve damage
Burning Sensation in Muscles
Your body responds to strenuous activity such as lifting weights, sprinting, cycling, or other intense exercises in a variety of ways. Probably, the most common cause of a burning sensation in muscles during exercise is lactic acid, which is a natural byproduct of exertion that your body produces. The Cleveland Clinic calls this muscle pain a good pain and says it should end immediately after you stop the activity.
Why your body responds this way when working out often relates to the intensity of the exercise. “When you exercise very intense, your muscles can’t get all the oxygen needed to break down glucose for energy quick enough, so lactic acid accumulates in muscles and spills over into the bloodstream,” Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, a certified strength, and conditioning specialist.
Since lactic acid is produced from the body to help convert energy during your workout, Conrad explains that the faster and more intense the exercise is, the more burning you may feel as your body tries to break down food for energy. “The more strenuous the activity, the more lactic acid is spilled over into the bloodstream, which leads to more burning sensation during the exercise,” he adds.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
Another reason you might experience a burning sensation in your muscles during exercise is a phenomenon called delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS can happen after performing an activity that places new stress on a muscle or when a muscle is asked to do too much too soon, which causes small microtears in the muscle fiber.
Additionally, Conrad points out that the longer you stay in the burn during exercise, and the greater the force on your muscles during exercise, the greater the muscle damage.
Even though DOMS happens after you’ve finished working out, it can stick around for a few days, which means if you exercise during that time, you might feel your muscles burn with little exertion. For the most part, DOMS symptoms typically last 12 to 24 hours after the causing exercise was performed, but it may continue up to 72 hours.
If you have burning pain longer than 24 hours after the workout, Conrad says it’s helpful to perform low-intensity, low-repetition exercises of the same muscle group each day until the DOMS soreness goes away. However, if the pain lasts more than a few days, consult your doctor.
Read more: The Treatment for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
When to Worry
Most of the time, the burning sensation in muscles during exercise is caused by a normal reaction to working out, such as lactic acid buildup. That said, there are certain medical conditions you need to be aware of that can cause a burning sensation in the body, and may need further medical attention.
One issue you shouldn’t ignore is chronic exertional compartment syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic exertional compartment syndrome affects the muscles and nerves and happens as a result of exercise. It causes pain, swelling, aching, burning, or cramping in a specific area of the limb, usually the lower leg. If these symptoms continue to occur or they get worse while engaging in physical activity, talk to your doctor so they can determine a correct diagnosis.
Another red flag to consider when muscles burn with little exertion while working out is an injury to the muscle or surrounding area. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that some of the more common soft-tissue injuries that can happen during exercise include sprains, strains, and bruises.
If you believe the cause of your muscle burn has to do with a soft-tissue injury, stop exercising immediately and consult your doctor.
*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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