Sore legs for 2 weeks...(follow-up to previous question)
August 29, 2011 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Sore legs for over 2 weeks...(follow-up to previous question)

I previously posted here about my sore legs issue after starting to ride a new bike.

To summarize: After a few years of riding a 36 pound cruiser to work 2-3 times a week during spring/summer/fall, I spent a lot of money on a heavy Dutch bike. In my second week of riding, I overdid squats at the gym and was having severe muscle soreness the more I continued to ride (so much that I was having difficulty just walking, or even going up/down stairs). I was worried that the weight of the bike (which turned out to be 62 pounds) was the cause. Or maybe it was just the squats and any bicycle would have made it worse? At this point I still don't know.

Based on the answers I got for that question, I stopped doing any leg workouts at the gym, and I raised the seat on my bike. I decided to stop riding until my legs felt better, so I could start again with a clean slate.

After 2 weeks of no physical activity (other than the normal walking around that one does during the course of a day), I wasn't feeling better so I went to a doctor who specialized in sports medicine. He x-rayed my knees, watched me take a few steps and do some other movements. He said there was nothing seriously wrong that he could see, just muscle soreness. He could not pinpoint the exact cause, but he is not a fan of squats and he said to stop doing them entirely (he showed me some alternate exercises to do when I'm feeling better). He also said that I had "weak legs" which sounds about right. In 3 years of working out at the gym, I can now do chin-ups, do 15 push-ups balancing on my toes (not knees) and can bench press a 45 pound barbell. But I have made very little progress in my legs. So I asked if it was normal to take 2 weeks for my legs to heal. He said that once you get into your 30s (I'm 32) these things can linger so it's not totally out of the ordinary. He suggested that I try riding a mile that day (even though I told him I wasn't 100% better) and that if it felt okay, to try riding to work again.

I waited another 3 days (this was yesterday), at which point my legs finally felt better. I rode 1 mile to the grocery store, shopped for 30 minutes, and rode back. Again I was sore. I resolved to sell the Dutch bike and just ride my cruiser from now on. So I rode my cruiser to work today (2.7 miles one way) and I'm sore again. Coming home was difficult. I was on the lowest gear (1 out of 7) and I still felt like I was pedaling through glue. So maybe it wasn't the Dutch bike after all, but that I am apparently the world's biggest weakling.

I am really really really pissed off now. How long does it take to recover? Apparently I need more than 2 weeks to recover from sore quads? How can I know when I'm ready to start again, if feeling better isn't a good enough sign? That doctor had told me to try riding that very day, and even after waiting an additional 3 days I still wasn't better. I am so angry I feel like going into the garage and smashing all the bikes with a hammer and never riding again. I was hoping to start using my bike for all local errands (and only using the car for longer distances), but if my legs can't handle a 1 mile ride on a low gear (like yesterday), then maybe there's no hope for me.

It's not like I've never ridden before. I'm no athlete, but I have been riding my cruiser to work 2-3 days a week for the past 3 years in spring/summer/fall. I had been doing this for 2 months already when I got the new bike. It just doesn't seem to make sense that I have somehow regressed so far that even a super-short ride on a low gear is painful.

Going without riding (or any exercise for that matter) for 2 weeks (especially with the nice weather) was bad enough, because I am generally a very active person, and I was getting really antsy. Now I'm wondering, do I need to stop for 2 months instead? Is there at least some way to tell when I'm better and ready to ride again? With the exception of the 1 or 2 days before I tried riding again yesterday, I have essentially been in pain for over a month (starting with my second week with the new bike). I just want to not be in pain anymore, and to be able to ride again.
posted by LaurenIpsum to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I totally don't mean this in a bad way, but you just sound really weak. It happens. You sound like you're doing too much, too soon. Try an easy set of 10 squats with no weight at all, rest for 48 hours, and do some more. Build up slowly and get extra sleep at night. Full recovery normally takes 48-72 hours, any longer than that and you are doing something wrong. 32 is young as hell, it can't be your age. Can you do yoga standing poses? Also, if I were you I would gently but persistently stretch those quads whenever I did any physical activity... my two cents.
posted by facetious at 5:38 PM on August 29, 2011

Yeah, my legs have always been weak...but it doesn't seem to make sense that I was previously able to do my 2.7 mile commute twice a week (and occasional longer rides) with absolutely no problem, and after taking 2 weeks off I've lost all strength in my legs? Even when I started riding in March (after taking the entire winter off) I did not have soreness anywhere near approaching this.

At this point I'm really more concerned with being able to ride again than doing squats - and I had avoided doing squats entirely because I felt that doing both was too much. If I can only do one or the other from now on, I'd rather be bicycling.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:44 PM on August 29, 2011

I hear you. It does seem odd that you would have regressed like that, but regardless - slow progression is the way to go. Squats are a perfect leg strengthener, but it seems pretty clear that you've gotta start at rock bottom and work your way up. Honestly this sounds like a job for a physical therapist - they specialize in gently building strength in compromised musculatures.
posted by facetious at 5:51 PM on August 29, 2011

Where's your bike seat at? I find if my seat is too low it changes the effort to my quads from my glutes/hams a lot. Try raising your seat until you get full leg extension when your pedal is at the lowest point, without overextending. That may make a difference.
posted by GuyZero at 6:00 PM on August 29, 2011

Yes, I did raise the seat after suggestions from people in my last question. It didn't seem to make any difference, plus I was still in pain today after riding on my old cruiser, which has always been at the same height and never caused me any problems.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:03 PM on August 29, 2011

Do you have pain in your actual muscles or in your joints?

I overexercised when I was in college and strained my hip flexors. I couldn't walk up stairs; when I'd push down to take a step it would hurt too much. I had a VERY hard time getting this diagnosed; six months of ibuprofen three times a day before I ended up getting checked by a physical therapist who could identify what was wrong with me.

I'd suggest checking with a physical therapist; not just a general physician. This sounds pretty specific and someone who is accustomed to dealing with everything on a very specific level might be more helpful. Even if the case is just that you're weak, they should have good ideas for strengthening.
posted by stoneegg21 at 6:04 PM on August 29, 2011

The pain is in the front of both thighs (in the muscles), pretty much dead center - no issues with joints. When this whole business started it was... I don't want to say "sharp," but it was an intense pain in a very focused area of the legs, to the point where I was walking funny and couldn't go up & down stairs without having to use my hands on the railings to hoist myself up. Then it changed to a dull ache for a few weeks. Then over the last few days there was no pain, so I took the doctor's advice and tried to ride. As of today's ride home it's more like the intense pain of a few weeks ago, but not quite as bad. Still, my husband noticed right away that I was walking funny again today, without my even saying anything.

Just to clarify (because I didn't word it right in the question) the guy I saw was not my primary care physician - he is a specialist in sports medicine. But maybe I will look into seeing a physical therapist instead.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:12 PM on August 29, 2011

What is your diet like? Are you getting enough water? Enough potassium? Enough protein? Enough sleep?

Whenever I have chronic soreness it's usually related to the above.
posted by schroedinger at 6:19 PM on August 29, 2011

Also, sometimes the best thing for general muscle soreness (i.e. not an injury) is to work through it until your body gets used to the activity.
posted by schroedinger at 6:20 PM on August 29, 2011

I am not a physical therapist, but that sounds WAY more like a strain/sprain than soreness. Muscle soreness is dull; sprains and strains are sharp. Even when I went from nothing to three hour workouts one time it was dull. All over, but still dull.

And I had to do that when I went up the stairs; I hopped up while leaning on the railings.
posted by stoneegg21 at 6:28 PM on August 29, 2011

Since it was a sharp pain that first manifested itself during exercise, and since it has persisted for so long, this sounds like an injury, and not simple muscle soreness. But this is odd because it's manifested itself symmetrically. (Sports medicine folk wisdom says if it's asymmetrical pain it's more likely to be an injury). Anyway, sounds like you injured your muscles doing squats, and your bike riding is just inflaming the injury. In which case you're going to go very easy on your quads. And be patient. It might take a long time to heal. Also I've heard that for physical therapy, the sooner the better.
posted by L'oeuvre Child at 6:42 PM on August 29, 2011

It's pretty cut and dry, buddy. You WAY overdid it. Yeah, it could take weeks. Some athletes

overdo things and it takes months to get back into *around* the same form they were.

And it doesn't matter your starting fitness. I'm in very very very good physical condition. Ran for an hour a few days ago, after not running for months - man, I still feel that, a few days later. The same week, I did 6 hours on the bike, *fast* and, meh, after a shower I felt fine.

You gotta really rest, maybe get yourself a foam roller and learn how to use it - massage yourself, etc. Treat your body well. *slowly* get into my physical activities. It's hard to do and easy to be impatient with it and to blame everything except the obvious. Although, I wouldn't discredit some sort of dietary deficiency - keep a food diary. Prolonged soreness could be something as simple as not getting enough electrolytes (or it could be something much more severe - like being anemic)

Welcome to downtime!
posted by alex_skazat at 7:13 PM on August 29, 2011

Sounds like you maybe messed up your quadriceps? I would follow up with the sports medicine doctor, relate to him what you told us here, and see if he will give you a prescription for even a few sessions of physical therapy.
posted by gudrun at 8:25 PM on August 29, 2011

Did the doc prescribe you any anti-inflamatories or any meds at all? Honestly, to me, it sounds like you overdid it and might now have tendonitis. Either patellar tendonitis or IT Band syndrome (both can manifest throughout the leg, but usually at the knee or above)*.

You might have gone too far with the squats, and the biking is making it worse. Especially as the pain comes back not immediately, but after a little bit of exercise. If you *do* have tendonitis, what sucks is that is requires a lot more than 2 weeks of rest to get over. A prescription anti-inflammatory will help (or you can take an OTC but you'll have to take it every 4 hours for like a month).

*Don't be turned off by the description of knee pain. When I had ITB it was in the outside of my hip and the top/center of my quads.
posted by Brittanie at 9:37 PM on August 29, 2011

Between three years at the gym and bike riding you should be WAY stronger than you are. Are you getting enough protein? If you're eating a low-protein, low-calorie diet, biking a lot, and add in additional lifting with squats (even with dumbbells) your muscles are going to be starved for recovery resources.
Certainly follow up with a sports physician, but try to get in some extra protein over the next few days and see how you recover.
posted by Benjy at 8:43 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm glad that you took some time off and are taking the pain seriously (I was very concerned when I read your previous post). My only advice left is what I'd tell my wife or best friend:
1. pay attention to the pain; don't injure yourself for the long-haul trying to work through it, etc., unless you have multiple expert medical advisers telling you that's the real solution.
2. find another doctor. I know that with my wife's knee (joint) pain it took her four doctors before she found a radiologist who saw tell-tale signs on the x-rays. My wife was very skeptical, but exploratory surgery confirmed the diagnosis (she notes: arthroscopy is really amazing to watch) and she got fixed the best they could.

Is there a nearby university that has a sports team? I'm told by people in the cycling club here around Virginia Tech that the best "recover from injury" doctors seem to be attached to pro or collegiate (effectively pro) sports teams.
posted by introp at 10:51 AM on August 30, 2011

Thanks for all the replies so far. I do eat plenty of protein, so that's definitely not an issue - but just to be safe, today I've been trying to have even more than usual, so I'll continue that for a while and see if that helps. My diet is generally very healthy, and I am at a good weight so I am not currently dieting or cutting calories in any way. I admit that I don't always get a good night's sleep, as I tend to be an anxious person in general, but I occasionally take 1/4 of an Ambien when needed (2.5 mg).

I'm thinking that Brittanie may be on the right track with the issue being more serious than just muscle soreness. I've always been something of a weakling, but the fact that I was able to do fine bicycling and now suddenly can barely handle a short ride on the lowest gear makes me think something is wrong.

It's funny - when I was a kid, I thought doctors knew everything. You'd go to them and they'd say "This is what's wrong, and here's how to fix it." But now I see that they don't always know any more than the rest of us. Last year I developed a spinal fluid leak (likely due to a rough roller coaster, but I guess I'll never know for sure), which caused excruciating headaches whenever I was sitting or standing. My primary care physician was downright rude to me, acting like I was being a drama queen over just a headache, even though I kept telling her that it wasn't "just" a headache, it was something more. She only grudgingly referred me to a neurologist because I kept insisting. The neurologist had no clue either, and kept giving me (expensive) treatments in the hopes that something would work. After 6 weeks of near-constant pain (except when lying down), I went to another neurologist for a second opinion. He immediately diagnosed it as a spinal fluid leak and told me it would go away on its own. And it eventually did.

I thought that experience was a fluke, and now I'm starting to see that sometimes doctors are just guessing like the rest of us. I'm thinking this guy was obviously too quick to diagnose it as "just" muscle soreness, and to say that it's normal for such pain to continue for over 2 weeks in someone of "my age." My spider sense is starting to tingle in the same way that last year I knew that there was more to my problem than a simple headache.

I called the office this morning and spoke to his secretary, briefly explained that I was still in pain and was concerned that it was more of an injury than soreness and asked if I could get a prescription for physical therapy. She said she would talk to the doctor and someone would call me back. I haven't heard anything yet.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2011

A second opinion isn't a bad idea.

But, here some question: have you ever actually really pushed yourself athletically before? To a point of exhaustion? To a point of soreness that hurts so bad you can't walk? Most athletes will give you a resounding "Yes, on a frequent basis." to all of those questions.

All in all, maybe this is an injury. Or, maybe you are just sore and you need a to start doing a bit of pre and post workout warmup and cooldown. Like stretching. So my answer is if the second opinion is just a shrug then ask them to show you some stretches.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2011

Yes, I have gotten very sore, more than once. I have had workouts where I could barely walk the next day. But it was always better in a couple of days. The fact that over 2 weeks of non-activity has not improved anything (and trying to ride again made things worse) makes me think this could be more than just muscle soreness. My legs are pretty much hurting all the time, even when I'm just sitting in a chair.

I know, in this question I'm sure I come across as a wimp who can't handle a little discomfort. That's not the case at all. I've experienced plenty of post-workout pain. But nothing of this magnitude. And I always make sure to do warmups, cooldowns and stretches with my workouts.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:47 PM on August 30, 2011

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