Burning thigh syndrome (or meralgia paresthetica) is a painful condition that affects one of the large sensory nerves in your legs. The condition occurs when something compresses this nerve, causing a severe burning pain in your outer thigh. If your doctor thinks you are suffering from meralgia paresthetica, learn more about what causes the condition, and what you may need to do to deal with the symptoms.
Meralgia paresthetica is a nerve entrapment syndrome because the symptoms occur due to a trapped or compressed nerve. In this case, the nerve is the lateral cutaneous nerve in the thigh (also called the lateral femoral nerve). This nerve starts in the lower part of your spinal cord, passes over the hipbones and under a tough ligament in your groin called the inguinal ligament.
The nerve gives feeling to the skin on your outer upper thigh. Compression normally occurs around the inguinal ligament. In many cases, a doctor won't know what caused the condition, but direct injuries to the nerve will often lead to burning thigh syndrome. An injury during certain types of surgery (like hernia repairs) could also cause this problem.
People who play gymnastics, soccer and baseball are at higher risk of meralgia paresthetica. If you work out or do other strenuous activities, you can also injure the nerve. Pregnant women also sometimes get this problem, and men who wear heavy tool belts at work can also experience the symptoms.
Anybody can get meralgia paresthetica, but it's more common in men. The condition is rare in children, and normally affects people aged 30 to 40. The most common and obvious symptom is a severe burning pain on the on the outer side of your upper thigh. You may also experience numbness in the same area.
Other symptoms include:
- Tingling or pins and needles
- Little sensation in that part of the body
- Aching in the groin
- Pain in the buttocks
- Skin that is very sensitive to heat or touch
The symptoms are normally worse when you walk around or stand up.
It's often difficult to accurately diagnose the condition, as several other conditions share the same symptoms. Your doctor will discuss your medical history and carry out a physical exam. Many patients experience tenderness near the hip bone, and electrical studies can help diagnose the condition if you find that an electric shock shoots into your thigh. A doctor will then inject lidocaine (a local anesthetic) near the hip bone. If this temporarily relieves the symptoms, it's likely that you have meralgia paresthetica.
Other tests can indicate this condition. Nachlas' test is an orthopedic doctor test that can help a specialist differentiate between a nerve problem and a lumbar spine injury. The specialist will ask you to lay flat on your chest and flex your knee up, to see if you can touch your buttock with your heel. He or she can then diagnose the problem, according to where you feel pain.
Your doctor may recommend different treatment options to help you recover from burning thigh syndrome. In all cases, the aim is to get rid of the cause of the compression, but this varies from one patient to another.
Treatment options include:
- Rest (particularly from aggravating activity)
- Weight loss
- Wearing looser clothes
- Corticosteroid injections
- Physical therapies, including massage, manipulation and stretching
- Other medicines to stop the nerve pain
In more serious cases, you may need to undergo sensory nerve surgery. For people with intermittent symptoms, a surgeon will normally decompress the nerve. For patients with constant pain, your surgeon may cut the nerve. Both types of surgery occur under a general anesthetic. It can often take several months for the symptoms to subside.
Burning thigh syndrome is a painful condition that can severely disrupt daily activities. If you suffer the symptoms of this problem, talk to your doctor about the right treatment options.