Thigh Pain Overview

A major cause of thigh pain in this high-tech world is cell phones. Cell phones? Yes, carrying your cell phone in your front pocket increases your changes of developing meralgia paresthetica, pinched femoral nerve, a common cause of thigh pain. 

Meralgia paresthetica, is a common, often misdiagnosed, cause of thigh pain, numbness, and a burning sensation. Meralgia paresthetia is caused when excess pressure is put on a nerve (impingement) in the pelvic region. When this nerve is pinched, feeling in the upper thigh is affected.  

Meralgia paresthetic can been diagnosed by both primary care physicians and specialists, yet it is under recognized and can be easily confused with other more common conditions.  It has a few key, well-defined features that help differentiate it from other causes of leg pain.


The symptoms of meralgia paresthetica  include pain, numbness, and burning in the fairly well described region of the front or side of the thigh. Many people describe a sensation of tingling or prickling, or a bad sunburn feeling. It feels very superficial, and the skin on the affected leg feels different to touch compared to the other side. The sensations can vary form week-to-week, and the symptoms rarely extend below the knee.

Symptoms are often worse with prolonged standing, or activities that require you to repetitively extend the hip.  Discomfort is often improved while sitting or lying down.

What Causes Meralgia Paresthetica

Meralgia paresthetica is caused by an entrapment or irritation of a nerve that runs past the bony bump on the front of the pelvis (see Figure 1).  Called the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, its only job is to supply the skin in the thigh with sensation. This means it is not a motor nerve, or nerve that causes  muscles to move.  When these types of nerves are damaged, the discomfort experienced by the patient can be anything from complete numbness, to searing, burning pain to pins and needles. 

Anything that causes excessive pressure on the nerve can cause damage. The most common causes of   excessive pressure on the nerve include:

  • Being overweight (obesity)
  • Wearing tight  clothing (hip huggers or wide belts). 
  • Wearing heavy utility belts
  • Pregnancy
  • Keeping cell phone or wallet in front pocket

Being overweight allows the excess abdominal tissue to lie directly on the nerve, trapping it under the ligament. Tight clothing or large belts can produce the same effect, so interestingly there has been a trend in seeing this condition among young females who wear ‘hip hugger’ jeans and decorative belts.  It can also be seen in police officers and laborers who wear heavy utility belts. Pregnancy can have a similar effect as being overweight, as the extra weight in the abdomen will put pressure on the nerve. 

There are much less common causes such as thyroid conditions, diabetes and lead poisoning all of which can affect nerve function.


Updated on: 05/19/15
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Thigh Pain Diagnosis