Thigh pain is a common problem that many people experience. It may come on suddenly or gradually, and it can cause you to have difficulty with normal functional mobility like walking, running, or climbing stairs. Sometimes thigh pain can occur after trauma or an injury, and other times it may come on for no apparent reason.
Anatomically speaking, your thigh is the area of your upper leg between your hip joint and your knee. Your quadriceps muscles reside in the front of your thigh and serve to bend your hip up and straighten your knee. Your hamstrings are in the back; these muscles help to bend your knee. Groin muscles on the inner aspect of your thigh pull your leg in, while your hip muscles, like the gluteus medius, pull your thigh out to the side. Several nerves travel down your thighs.
There are many different causes of thigh pain, some obvious and others not so much. Understanding your thigh pain and what may be causing it is the first step to properly treating your condition. Common causes of thigh pain may include:
Pinched Spinal Nerve
Thigh pain may be caused by a pinched spinal nerve. Herniated lumbar discs or low back arthritis may pinch on the nerves that exit your spinal column and travel down your thigh. Symptoms of a pinched nerve may include:
Pain in the front or back of your thigh
Numbness or tingling in your thigh
Weakness in your thigh muscles
Difficulty sitting or rising from sitting
Pinched nerves typically cause thigh pain that changes depending on your spine's position, so this can be a clue to your doctor that your low back is actually causing your thigh pain.
Spinal stenosis is a condition where your spinal nerves are compressed by the bony anatomy of your spine. Symptoms of stenosis include:
Pain in both thighs and legs
Numb and heavy feelings in your thighs
The pain from spinal stenosis is typically felt in both legs at the same time. Symptoms are made worse with standing walking and almost immediately relieved with sitting.
If you have any sort of traumatic event occur where your thigh is struck, this may cause pain. Usually, the cause of your thigh pain is obvious after trauma; your thigh was injured, and now it hurts. Symptoms from a blow to the thigh may include pain in the front or back of your thigh that is worse with activity. Bruising may be present. The pain is usually intermittent; it comes and goes depending on your activity level.
Quadriceps or Hamstring Tendonitis
Overuse and repetitive stress to your thigh muscles may cause inflammation in your tendons, a condition that is known as tendonitis. Symptoms of quad or hamstring tendonitis include:
Pain in the front or back of your thigh, usually near your knee or hip
Difficulty walking or climbing stairs due to pain
Weak feeling in your muscles in the front or back of your thigh
Symptoms usually last for four to six weeks and slowly get better with gentle exercise.
Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome
Your iliotibial band is a thick piece of fascia and tissue that courses down the outer side of your thigh. Sometimes it can become irritated with overuse or repeated stress. This is a common running injury known as iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBS). Symptoms of ITBS include:
Pain on the outside part of your thigh near your hip or knee
Tight feelings near your hip or knee
Difficulty walking or running
The pain from ITBS usually gets worse with increased activity and better with rest. Many people benefit from physical therapy to learn stretches and strengthening exercises for ITBS.
Sometimes, a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), also known as a stroke, can cause pain in your thigh. This is usually accompanied by numbness and tingling and a sudden onset of muscle weakness. This is a medical emergency, so if you suspect you have had a stroke, go to your local emergency department right away.
A blood clot in your lower leg or thigh may cause thigh pain. This is usually accompanied by warmth, swelling, and redness in your thigh. A blood clot needs to be diagnosed and managed immediately; if the clot dislodges from your vein, it can travel to your lungs and become an often fatal pulmonary embolism.
When to See a Doctor
Many people with thigh pain are able to treat it with no medical intervention. Sometimes, you need to see a doctor or medical professional for thigh pain. So how do you know when a doctor is necessary for your thigh pain?
In general, it is better to err on the side of caution. If you have thigh pain that you are unsure about or that does not subside with time and/or medication, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Signs and symptoms that warrant a visit to a medical professional include:
Severe pain that limits your ability to function normally. If you are having difficulty walking normally due to your pain, visit your doctor.
Pain that is accompanied by fever or malaise. This could be a sign of infection, and your family doctor should check things out.
Thigh pain with redness, swelling, and warmth of your skin. This may be a sign of a blood clot and requires immediate medical attention.
Thigh pain that is accompanied by deformity. A muscle strain or tear may cause your thigh to look deformed, and a visit to an orthopedic surgeon may be needed to accurately diagnose and treat your condition.
Thigh pain that comes on suddenly and limits your ability to walk. A pinched nerve in your back may be the culprit here, and checking in with an orthopedist is recommended.
Most cases of thigh pain can be diagnosed accurately by your family physician or orthopedist. Some thigh pain that is caused by nerve compression or neurological conditions may require a neurologist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
A Word From Hellopdox
Most cases of thigh pain are easily diagnosed and treated, and most thigh pain causes only minor and temporary functional limitations. Sometimes, thigh pain can be serious, and getting to a doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment is essential. Understanding your thigh pain and what to do when you feel it can help you get the right care so you can quickly return to your normal lifestyle and everyday activities.
The lower parts of your legs take the brunt of your day-to-day life. You shouldn’t have to be in pain, though.
Medical treatments can help if your doctor says you have a condition like leg cramps, blood clots, or issues with the nerves. But you can do things at home that help, too.
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
Muscle cramp. It can strike in your sleep or in the middle of the day. This sudden, tight, intense lower leg pain is sometimes called a "charley horse." When it takes a grip, it can get worse quickly. It happens when your muscles are tired or dehydrated. Drink more water if you're prone to leg cramps.
It might help to gently stretch or massage the area where your muscle has tensed up. Stretch your legs properly before you exercise, too.
Shin splints. You can feel this pain right up the front of your calf. The muscles and flesh along the edge of the shin bone become inflamed, so it hurts to walk, run, or jump. Doing activity over and over on hard surfaces can bring this on. You may also be more likely to get shin splints if you have flat feet or your feet turn outward.
Rest your legs to feel better. Ice helps. So can anti-inflammatory meds such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, if your doctor says these are safe for you. You can buy them over the counter.
You might want to see your doctor if the pain stays. Try not to do anything that makes your leg hurt more. Once it feels a little better, do some stretches. The next time out, wear comfortable, supportive shoes. And don't run on hard surfaces if possible.
Tendinitis. One of the first warning signs you have an inflamed Achilles tendon is pain in your lower calf, near the back of your heel. It’s a common injury that makes the tendon swell, stretch, or tear. You can get it from overworking the calf muscle or climbing the stairs. It might stick around for a long time, too.
Apply ice to get some relief. Or take anti-inflammatories if your doctor says they're okay for you. Avoid doing anything that causes pain. When it hurts less, stretch and strengthen your leg.
If your pain feels severe, your Achilles tendon may be torn. Another possible sign of a tear is having trouble pointing your toe downward. Your doctor may inject medicine into the inflamed area. You might need surgery to repair the damage.
Broken bones or sprains. Say you twist your ankle and get a mild sprain. Try the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
For a more severe sprain or a broken bone (fracture), apply ice and see your doctor right away. You may need a cast or brace. You may also need physical therapy.
It will take time, but gradually you'll be able to walk comfortably, again. Go slow as you gradually increase your strength and put weight on the injured leg.
X-rays usually can pinpoint the location of the break and determine the extent of injury to any adjacent joints. Occasionally, your doctor may also recommend more-detailed images using computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment of a broken leg will vary, depending on the type and location of the break. Stress fractures may require only rest and immobilization. Fractures are classified into one or more of the following categories:
• Open (compound) fracture.In this type of fracture, the skin is pierced by the broken bone. This is a serious condition that requires immediate, aggressive treatment to decrease your chance of an infection.
• Closed fracture.In closed fractures, the surrounding skin remains intact.
• Incomplete fracture.This term means that the bone is cracked, but it isn't separated into two parts.
• Complete fracture.In complete fractures, the bone has snapped into two or more parts.
• Displaced fracture.In this type of fracture, the bone fragments on each side of the break are not aligned. A displaced fracture may require surgery to realign the bones properly.
• Greenstick fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone cracks but doesn't break all the way through — like when you try to break a green stick of wood. Most broken bones in children are greenstick fractures, because a child's bones are softer and more flexible than those of an adult.
Setting the leg
Initial treatment for a broken leg usually begins in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. Here, doctors typically evaluate your injury and immobilize your leg with a splint. If you have a displaced fracture, your doctor may need to manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions before applying a splint — a process called reduction. Some fractures are splinted for a day to allow swelling to subside before they are casted.
Restricting the movement of a broken bone in your leg is critical to proper healing. To do this, you may need a splint or a cast. And you may need to use crutches or a cane to keep weight off the affected leg for six to eight weeks or longer.
To reduce pain and inflammation, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or a combination of the two. If you're experiencing severe pain, your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medications.
After your cast or splint is removed, you'll likely need rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy to reduce stiffness and restore movement in the injured leg. Because you haven't moved your leg for a while, you may even have stiffness and weakened muscles in uninjured areas. Rehabilitation can help, but it may take up to several months — or even longer — for complete healing of severe injuries.
Surgical and other procedures
Immobilization heals most broken bones. However, you may need surgery to implant internal fixation devices, such as plates, rods or screws, to maintain proper position of your bones during healing