It is common to feel burning legs during exercise, or because of sunburn. Other medical conditions can cause nerve damage, which may lead to a burning sensation.

Burning legs can be difficult to describe to a doctor. A person may feel a sensation of heat, tingling, or numbness. The feeling may be in one leg, both legs, part of the leg, or just the feet.

Describing the pain and its specific location can help a doctor make a diagnosis. In this article, we discuss the possible causes and their additional symptoms, as well as when to see a doctor.

The skin, muscle, and nerves in the legs can all cause a burning sensation or pain. Knowing the source of the pain can help to understand the cause and access the right treatment.

Exercise

a female runner experiencing burning legs.Share on Pinterest
People may experience burning legs during exercise.

Exercise that uses muscles in the legs can cause a burning feeling. This does not always mean that the muscle is injured.

During exercise, the body needs more energy than usual. It cannot take in enough oxygen to create energy, so the muscles in the body take over. This creates lactic acid, which causes a burning feeling when it builds up.

Running or an intense workout will often cause burning legs. The feeling should go away after the exercise is over.

Muscles will often be sore for a day or two after exercise. This happens more often when the exercise is new, or when a person's fitness is improving.

Injury

Injuring the leg is one of the most common causes of pain. In particular, damage to muscles can cause a burning sensation.

When muscles stretch further than they should, it can cause a strain. This can tear part of the muscle. Exercise is a common cause of muscle strain.

A person may feel sudden pain at the time of the injury, which may turn into a throbbing or burning sensation. The area may swell and bruise.

People can treat muscle aches and strains with the RICE method:

  • Rest. Do not exercise the leg or put too much weight on it.
  • Ice. Reduce swelling with a cold pack wrapped in a cloth.
  • Compression. Compress the leg by bandaging it.
  • Elevation. Raise the leg above the heart.

People can help prevent muscle strain by warming up before exercise and cooling down afterward.

Sun exposure

an older man lying on a lido in the sea. Share on Pinterest
A person's skin may become inflamed if they expose it to the sun without using sunscreen.

It is easy to overlook the legs when applying sunscreen. A person may not realize that they have burned their skin until they feel pain or discomfort many hours later.

Sunburn causes the skin to become inflamed. It may feel hot to the touch and cause a burning sensation for some time. It is vital to cool the skin down to ease pain and prevent further damage.

Take a short cool shower or bath and then apply a cold pack wrapped in a towel to the skin.

People can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to reduce the inflammation. Moisturizing the skin with aloe vera or a water-based cream can help it heal.

Nerve damage

Peripheral neuropathy is the medical term for a type of nerve damage. It mostly affects the legs and feet but can sometimes affect the arms and hands. Diabetes is a common cause of nerve damage.

High blood sugar from diabetes damages the nerves and blood vessels feeding the nerves. Over time, this can lead to peripheral neuropathy.

Symptoms affect the legs, feet, arms, and hands. They can include:

  • a burning or tingling feeling
  • pain
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • difficulty feeling pain or changes in temperature

For people with peripheral neuropathy, it can be harder to feel injuries such as blisters or sores developing. Treating these early can prevent infection and further health problems.

Peripheral neuropathy can affect balance and movement, but physical therapy may help. Medication can help with pain management.

If diabetes is the underlying cause, keeping blood sugar within a healthy range can help prevent nerve damage getting worse.

Burning thigh pain

The medical term for burning pain in the outer thigh is meralgia paresthetica. The burning pain is due to a large compressed nerve.

Causes of burning thigh pain include trauma, swelling, or pressure to the leg. Some common examples include weight gain, tight clothing, or work gear that presses on the body.

Symptoms include:

  • burning, numbness, or tingling in the outer thigh
  • pain in the outer thigh and buttocks
  • sensitivity to touch

Treatment is usually focused on resolving the cause of pain. Losing weight or wearing looser clothing can release pressure on the nerve. In some cases, a person may need an injection to reduce swelling.

Injured muscles and damaged skin can cause burning legs. It is usually straightforward to manage these health issues at home.

Resting a strained muscle, applying ice to the injury, and raising the leg help muscles heal.

Burning caused by exercise should go away soon afterward. Cooling down by doing some gentle stretches can help muscles recover and preventing aches and pains.

Applying a wrapped cold pack to sunburned skin can help soothe the burning sensation. Moisturizing and protecting the skin from further sun exposure will also aid the healing process.

Share on Pinterest
An individual should see a doctor if they have chronic tingling and numbness that they cannot easily explain.

Seek medical attention if:

  • a burn causes blisters on a large area of the body
  • a person has a fever, headache, confusion, or nausea
  • burns get worse or do not improve within 2 days
  • there is no clear cause of chronic tingling and numbness

A muscle injury may need medical attention if it does not improve with rest and treatment at home. Seek medical advice if the pain or swelling gets worse, or a person has a high temperature.

Sometimes, burning legs could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as nerve damage or burning thigh pain. Some medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, can also cause sensitivity to temperature. A doctor can help diagnose underlying issues.

Common causes of burning legs are injuries, or damage to the muscles or skin. Exercise or sun exposure are common culprits. People can usually treat these issues at home. Be sure to allow time for rest and recovery.

Some medical conditions can damage the nerves or put pressure on a nerve, causing a burning sensation. A doctor can diagnose these conditions and ensure the person receives the right treatment.