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Too much too soon can lead to sore thighs.
Doing a new exercise, or any type of new activity requiring muscle work, often leads to a certain amount of soreness. However, sore thighs when using an elliptical can also mean you're working too hard or have injured something. Pay close attention to when your soreness starts, how severe it is, how long it lasts and whether it's accompanied by other symptoms to determine whether your soreness is a normal result of exercise or requires professional help.
Down in the DOMS
If you've just started using the elliptical, even if you've done other types of cardio, you're likely to experience some delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, in your thighs. In the latter case, though, it probably won't be as severe. The same is true if you've just upped your speed or resistance. The soreness will most likely occur in your quads at the front of your thighs, as they work the hardest. If the pain is due to DOMS and not something more serious, it will usually hit you about 24 to 48 hours after your workout and won't last more than three to five days.
Gain With Less Pain
Some people aren't satisfied with a good workout unless they feel some pain. If you're not one of them, there are things you can do to lessen, if not totally prevent, post-exercise soreness. First, make sure to warm up with low-intensity exercise on or off the elliptical for about 10 minutes. If you're new to exercise, add time and resistance gradually -- about 10 minutes per week -- so your muscles can adapt. If you're changing from a different type of cardio machine, consider splitting your time between the two for the first few sessions. Always allow another five minutes to cool down by gradually lowering your intensity and resistance. Some people find stretching the quads and hamstrings after the workout helpful, though there's no clear proof that this works.
Straining and Tearing
Thigh pain that occurs while you're using the elliptical instead of hours later could mean a muscle strain or tear. You might feel this at the front of your thighs, in your hamstrings at the back or the adductors on the inside. Sometimes the pain is accompanied by a "popping" feeling in the muscle. If this happens, hop off the elliptical immediately, and if you feel weakness in your leg, get immediate medical attention. If you can walk on your leg, consult a physician at your earliest convenience. In the meantime, refrain from using the elliptical and limit other activity while practicing RICE -- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- of the sore area.
A pain that radiates through your buttocks and hip and down the back of your thigh could be a sign of back injury. DOMS can cause some swelling, but if the pain and/or swelling is severe, this could be a symptom of a more serious condition. In both of these cases, you should consult your physician. Muscle pain and weakness accompanied by dark urine can be the sign of a very rare but extremely serious condition resulting from over-exertion. In this case you should get to a hospital immediately.