Causes of Leg Pain at Rest vs During an Activity

Leg pain is a common issue, and you are not alone. Some people wonder why leg pain occurs only when they move around. Others, however, have the opposite problem. They experience discomfort while they are resting. Regardless of the situation, multiple possible causes can be behind leg pain.

Cause of Leg Pain at Rest

Poor Blood Circulation

One reason for leg pain during periods of inactivity is bad circulation. While at rest, the heart pumps less blood throughout the body. Usually, it does not pose an issue. However, some people experience symptoms from a decrease in blood flow. One of those symptoms is leg pain.

Poor circulation means the nerves and muscles receive less oxygen. Movement generally helps lessen leg pain in this situation. Diet and other lifestyle changes can ease aches as well.

Pinched Nerves

A nerve may be the cause of discomfort in a person’s leg while they are sitting or lying down. For many people, the sciatic nerve in the lower spine is the root cause. The bundle of nerve roots extends from the lower back to the foot. Nerve pain may happen because of inflammation, herniated disc, or pinching.

Pinching of the sciatic nerve is more likely to occur when lying down. The inward curve of the lower spine gets accentuated. Long periods in this position also put pressure on the nerve. However, elevating your legs while on your back can reduce the likelihood of leg pain.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Some people develop a disorder known as restless leg syndrome. The condition impacts the nervous system and creates uncontrollable urges to move the legs. An individual often faces the symptoms at night when they sit or lie down.

An uncomfortable sensation is the reason for the urge to move one’s legs. Some people feel tingling or itching. Meanwhile, others experience throbbing or aches in their legs. A doctor can help treat the underlying cause of restless leg syndrome.

Cause of Leg Pain When Moving

Overuse of Muscles

You might have leg pain while you are being active. A common cause is the overuse of the muscles. In fact, intense exercise or continuous physical labor can cause wear and tear on tissues, muscles, and ligaments. Being on your feet for extended periods can also lead to aches and stiffness.

The pain usually is minor at first. However, pain can gradually increase over time if a person continues to strain the affected leg muscles. In this case, resting your legs can minimize the discomfort. Do not hesitate to visit a professional if aches do not alleviate after a few days.

Intermittent Claudication

A person suffers from leg pain due to intermittent claudication in some cases. The condition primarily affects the calf but may reach the thigh as well. Intermittent claudication develops when you are active for a specific amount of time. It happens because of the hardening of the arteries.

A buildup of cholesterol and fats forms and leads to atherosclerosis, where the arteries narrow as a result. The decrease in blood flow leads to a cramp-like feeling. In this case, rest typically helps get rid of claudication.

Shin Splints

Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome, happen when the shin bone experiences excess stress. The surrounding tendons also become inflamed. This condition occurs after changes in an exercise routine or intense physical activity.

Uneven terrain can add stress as well. Dull pain in the inner shin and lower leg can persist after exercise. In this case, rest and ice packs often treat shin splints. However, it is important to see a doctor if the pain does not go away.

Leg pain can get in the way of activities and even sleep. At Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab, we can help you find the causes and alleviate the pain you are experiencing. Our physical therapists have the needed skills to treat underlying orthopedic-related issues. Email us at or call 570-208-2787 to learn how we can assist you.