Burning Thigh Pain (Meralgia Paresthesia)
Meralgia paresthetica—or burning thigh pain—is caused by compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (LFCN), one of the largest sensory nerves in the legs. The LFCN runs along the outer (lateral) thigh, providing sensory input to those surfaces. Lying over this nerve is the inguinal ligament, which runs near the groin and connects the oblique abdominal muscles to the pelvis. While uncommon, meralgia paresthesia is not considered rare and often goes undiagnosed. Most treatment focuses on relieving pressure on the nerve.
Compression to the LFCN can be caused by trauma, swelling, or pressure to the area. The nerve gets trapped under the inguinal ligament, which disrupts its sensory signal. Wearing tight clothing, gaining weight, and scar tissue from injuries to the thigh are the most common causes, but other factors like the disease process of diabetes can also damage the LFCN and cause meralgia paresthetica.
If you are experiencing outer thigh pain, visiting a qualified orthopedic specialist early on is essential. Because meralgia paresthetica is not a common condition, it can be misdiagnosed, and a proper diagnosis can ensure the right treatment plan in the future. Common symptoms of burning thigh pain include:
- Burning pain, numbness, and tingling are usually on the outer thigh.
- Aching in the groin or radiating into the buttocks.
- Decreased sensation in the upper leg.
- Increased sensitivity to light touch to the outer thigh.
The diagnostic process includes a physical examination, imaging, or nerve conduction study. During the exam, your orthopedic specialist will test for sensory differences between your lower extremities. An injection with a numbing medication such as Lidocaine can also confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the cause of the nerve’s compression. Relieving the pressure is the goal, which can mean rest from activities, weight loss, and wearing comfortable clothing.
Conservative treatment can include a corticosteroid injection to relieve symptoms. Rarely, the nerve must be released with a surgical procedure.