My legs ache when I’m tired, why?
June 8, 2020 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes, when I’m really tired in the evening - or especially when it’s late at night - my legs ache. This has been going on since I was a teenager and I have never been able to figure out what it is.

The sensation is hard to describe - it’s sort of a deep muscle ache. It’s very different from DOMS and unlike DOMS, it’s not affected at all by using the muscles or by stretching. The ache can range from mildly uncomfortable to very uncomfortable, and typically gets worse until I go to bed. I’ve never found anything that helps with the sensation other than just going to bed - and it’s totally gone when I wake up in the morning. The sensation has only ever been in my legs, never in my upper body.

When I was in my late teens, I noticed it frequently when I stayed up super late - probably more often then not if I was up until 3am or so. Then, I don’t recall noticing it for most of my 20s. I’m now in my mid-30s and it’s slightly more common again, though it starts much earlier in the evening.

When I google, I get a lot of hits about Restless Leg Syndrome. That doesn’t seem to fit though - there’s no feeling that I need to move my legs. I’m generally relieved to get in bed and don’t have as much discomfort when lying down in bed.

Any idea what this could be?
posted by insectosaurus to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can relate maybe slightly? I have had RLS in the past, but this was different and showed up nightly when I would be sitting on the couch. It wasn’t a sharp nor shooting pain, but it was concentrated in the backs of my thighs and often for me the solution was just going up to bed.

Part of the puzzle for me was chairs without full thigh support - and my car in particular. I noticed a significant difference when I switched to seats that supported my whole upper leg. A weird little thing but significant for me.
posted by hijinx at 4:49 PM on June 8, 2020

This was/is one of my symptoms for IT band syndrome - when you google you'll get a ton of hits about it being a "runner thing" but it can affect anyone. An orthopedist diagnosed me and I did PT and also learned some stretches that do help now.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:22 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Magnesium is often recommended as a supplement for muscle aches, you could try taking it for a while and see if it helps.
posted by penguin pie at 5:28 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like my experience with Restless Leg Syndrome when I was younger. It would happen when I was really tired, especially late at night, but wasn't able to lie down. Once I could lie down and go to sleep it would go away. (When I was pregnant, and then eventually when I got older, it would typically start happening while I was already in bed, but up until then it happened just under the circumstances you describe.) I would never have described the sensation I felt as an ache, though. It was a crawly sort of feeling that did make me want to jiggle or twitch or stretch my legs. But it wasn't general restlessness or any desire to exercise. What I really wanted was just to lie down and go to sleep.

When I was pregnant it got a lot worse and I started trying to figure out once and for all if it really was Restless Leg Syndrome or something else. When I would read about Restless Leg Syndrome sometimes it would sound like what I experienced and sometimes it would sound completely different. What I eventually concluded was that I did have RLS and that most descriptions of RLS were really unhelpful because it's hard to describe sensations and probably because a lot of the descriptions were written by people who had never experienced it and were just trying to paraphrase or summarize descriptions they had read somewhere. So I wouldn't be too quick to rule out RLS based on reading one or two descriptions that don't quite seem to fit. The part of your description that doesn't match my experience is the word "ache." Aching is often listed as one of the sensations people feel with RLS, though. I've always tended to assume it was a poorly chosen word thrown in by someone who had never experienced the sensation, but it's entirely possible that RLS feels different for different people.
posted by Redstart at 5:34 PM on June 8, 2020

If it helps - the stretches I learned in PT were not at all like the ways I tried to stretch where I "thought" the pain was. I had also given up on stretching!
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:40 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the cause is, but I have had the same thing since I was young - leg pain (predominantly calf) that starts when I'm tired and is only relieved by sleep. It isn't restless legs. I've had that too and it feels quite different.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 5:50 PM on June 8, 2020

I get a similar sensation as part of PMS. According to my doctor, that can be caused by hormones leading to greater vasodilation. Maybe tiredness can too?
posted by metasarah at 6:01 PM on June 8, 2020

I have always called this the jimmy legs, and I’ve had it since I was a kid. It’s a good clue for me that I’m tired.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:28 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I get something similar. Not pain but the feeling like I have to either lay down or go running around the block. My doc says it’s restless leg syndrome, and if I can’t go to sleep when it happens I take a tiny dose of klonopin (1/4 of a .5 mg pill) and it really helps. Talk to your doc of course.
posted by The Deej at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2020

I get this too, and I always figure it's from actual exertion--if I've been up and about, doing things all day (especially if I didn't get much sleep the night before), I generally assume that my legs just really are that tired from holding my body up for 12-18 hours. IMHO we underestimate how much work our leg muscles do, and so it feels weird when they're achy.
posted by witchen at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2020

I think I get this. It totally keeps me from sleeping. Plain aspirin fixes it pretty fast for me.
posted by fritley at 7:59 PM on June 8, 2020

When I has similar challenges, my Dr. ordered an MRI of lower back to look for a spinal stenosis.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:12 PM on June 8, 2020

I have the same thing! I always tell people I carry my fatigue in my thighs ... every once in a while I have to pull an all-nighter for work and my legs just ACHE the next day.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:55 PM on June 8, 2020

Ditto all the rest. When I can't get to sleep I take this that has magnesium and potassium. It works, but it work quickly enough that I wonder if it is placebo. But, it helps, placebo or not.
posted by tayknight at 9:07 PM on June 8, 2020

I once casually mentioned "you know that feeling when you're so tired your calves hurt" and got very blank stares in response. It's been happening to me since I was a little kid. These SaltStick electrolyte capsules seem to help.
posted by carolr at 9:21 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I get this same thing but in my arms! Google searches just give me DOMS, which I know isn't right. It feels like I'm getting the flu aches, but that's not it either. And it's only at night when I'm really tired and sleepy. So weird.
posted by OhFFS at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2020

Are you muscular with big calves? I have this and the better shape I'm in, the worse it is.

Aching legs are also my number one clue for periods.

Water and walking help. Honestly, though, I just consider it a thing like having a dry throat after working in dry heat all day.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:47 PM on June 9, 2020

Like several people here I have a very similar thing, have since I was a kid (nice to know I'm not alone!). I don't have an ID or definite solution, but for me it is definitely a mild, diffuse muscle cramp, and can be nearly entirely relieved by applying heat, e.g. hot water bottle on my calves or a warm bath.
posted by neatsocks at 4:03 PM on June 9, 2020

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