The thighs contain some of the largest muscles in the human body. The thigh muscles allow the lower body to bend, flex, and rotate. They also bear most of your body’s weight and keep the hips and legs assigned, in addition to providing and assisting with enough balance. Thigh muscles can be grouped based on their function and location.
- Hamstrings – The hamstrings allow you to extend your hip to move your leg behind your body, such as when you walk and put one leg behind you. They also let you flex your knee, for instance, when you are squatting.
- Adductors – Adductors allows you to bring the thighs toward each other, which is called adduction. They help you stay balanced, keep the legs and hips in alignment, and allow rotation through the hips and legs.
- Pectineus – The pectineus enables you to flex and rotate the thigh at the hip joint. It also helps stabilize the pelvis.
- Sartorius – This helps you flex and rotate the thigh from the hip joint. You use it when you cross your legs to rest one ankle on the opposite leg. Other examples include sitting cross-legged on the floor or bending and rotating your leg to look at the bottom of your foot.
- Quadriceps – The quadriceps allow you to flex your hip or extend the knee.
Thigh pain is a type of pain or discomfort affecting the area stretching from the pelvis to the knee. Your thighs generally provide structural support and enable movement; they are made up of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. Therefore, thigh muscles provide motion and tendons anchor your thigh muscles to the bones of the pelvis and lower leg. Ligaments hold the thigh bone together with the pelvis and the lower leg bones to create the hip and knee joints. The nerve controls sensation and movement, and blood vessels ensure continuous blood circulation to and from the thighs. Any of the structures of the thighs are subject to injury, infection, diseases, or other conditions that can produce pain.
Thigh pain can develop suddenly or gradually. Thigh pain may feel dull and achy, throbbing, piercing, or tingling. You may also experience parenthesis, pain-like sensations often described as pins-and-needles, prickling, or burning. Thigh pain may be simply irritating and uncomfortable or be so debilitating that you cannot put weight on your leg or walk. Thigh pain can be caused by a very wide variety of conditions, including normal growth and aging.
Causes & Symptoms
There are several conditions that can increase the risk of thigh pain. For instance, thigh pain can be caused by physical activity, injury, or age-related wear and tear on the hips and knees, which can cause pain or discomfort in the thigh area near the joint. Thigh pain can also be caused by infections as well as diseases and disorders that affect multiple body systems or areas, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Other causes of thigh pain include:
Pinched spinal nerve
Both herniated lumbar discs and low back arthritis may pinch on the nerves that exit your spinal column and travel down your thigh, resulting in thigh pain. Pinched nerves usually cause thigh pain that changes depending on your spine’s position.
Spinal stenosis is considered a degenerative condition because it worsens over time. The condition occurs when your spinal nerves are compressed by the bones in your spine. Additionally, this is simply a result of daily wear and tear experienced over the course of your life, thus increasing the risk for patients who are over the age of 40. The pain from spinal stenosis is normally felt in both legs at the same time. Symptoms are made worse with standing and walking and are almost immediately relieved when you are sitting.
Any sort of traumatic blow to your thigh can be painful, as there are many nerves running down your thigh.
Overuse and related stress to your thigh muscles may cause inflammation in your tendons; this condition is known as ‘tendonitis’.
A tear in the quadriceps is the most common cause of sudden pain in the front of the thigh. Quadriceps strains typically begin to develop during kicking, jumping, or sprinting.
Inflammation or irritation of the lateral hip bursa usually causes intense pain in the upper and outer thigh. For those with bursitis in the knee, certain activities, such as standing from a seated position or climbing the stairs, can be painful.
An avulsion fracture is one of the less common causes of thigh pain. It happens because of excessive and sudden tension where a tendon or ligament is attached to the bone, which results in a bony fragment being pulled away from the bone and staying embedded in the tissue. An avulsion fracture is associated with sharp pain, loss of functions, and swelling.
Thigh pain can develop along with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. Additional symptoms can involve body systems or areas, such as the cardiovascular and neurological systems. Other symptoms that are associated with thigh pain include the following below:
- Change in gait (such as limping)
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, fatigue, headache)
- Joint pain
- Muscle spasms
- Reduced range of motion
Who gets Thigh Pain?
The following risk factors linked to symptoms of thigh pain include:
- Diabetes – Diabetes-related nerve injury can lead to chronic thigh pain.
- Age – Older adults between the ages of 40 and 60 are at a higher risk of experiencing complications linked to thigh pain (meralgia paresthetica).
- Pregnancy – A growing belly puts added pressure on your groin, through which the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve passes.
- Obesity – Being overweight or obese can increase the pressure on your thigh, causing intense pain.
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
There are various amounts of complications that include thigh pain as one of the symptoms. Some of these complications can be life-threatening, such as:
- Stroke – Sometimes a stroke can cause abrupt pain in your thigh; this is typically accompanied by numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness that begins suddenly.
- Blood clot – A blood clot in your lower leg or thigh may cause thigh pain along with warmth, swelling, and redness. A blood clot needs to be diagnosed and managed immediately – if the clot moves from your veins, it can travel to your lungs and may result in a fatal pulmonary embolism.
- Meralgia paresthetica – Whether it is left thigh pain or right thigh pain, meralgia paresthetica occurs when too much pressure is put on a nerve in the pelvic area, most often the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. When this nerve is pinched, the feeling in the upper thigh is affected, resulting in thigh pain. In most cases, meralgia paresthetica can be easily confused with other conditions.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
During a diagnosis of thigh pain, your doctor will first ask about recent surgeries, injury to the hip, or repetitive activities that could irritate the nerve. If your doctor suspects meralgia paresthetica, he or she will ask questions to help determine what might be putting pressure on the nerve. Your doctor will also check for any sensory differences between the affected leg and your other leg. To verify the site of the pain, your doctor will then put some pressure on the nerve to reproduce the sensation. You may need both abdominal and a pelvic examination to exclude any problems in those areas. In addition, X-rays will help identify any bone abnormalities that are putting too much pressure on your thigh.
Physiotherapy and exercise are typically first-line treatments for relieving, treating, and preventing thigh pain symptoms. In treating thigh pain, physiotherapy may:
- Provide symptom relief.
- Promote healing of the underlying cause.
- Prevent recurrences and flare-ups.
A physiotherapist may prescribe a combination of various types of physical, manual, soft tissue mobilization, and / or exercise therapies in treating thigh pain. Specific exercises depend on the underlying cause of your thigh pain, as well as other factors, such as the patient’s level of pain. The following physiotherapy treatments include:
- Gait training – This includes analysis of walking technique and retraining correct gait patterns. This technique may include video analysis.
- Active assisted range of motion – includes therapist-assisted movement of parts of the lower body, such as the hip and legs. This technique helps facilitate the movement of specific joints or muscles that cause pain.
- Soft tissue mobilization – A soft tissue mobilization will include your physiotherapist using his or her hands or supporting equipment (such as a leg brace) to mobilize the tissues in the lower back, hips, or legs to treat fascia restrictions and decrease muscle tension or spasm.
- Muscle energy technique – is a form of manual therapy that involves the patient performing gentle muscle contractions in conjunction with your physiotherapist moving your painful joints through a specific range of motion. This technique may help reduce pain and restore function.
- Joint manipulation – This is a manual technique in which your therapist applies a quick, thrust force at the end range of motion of a joint to promote pain relief and restore normal movement.
- Nerve mobilization – involves active or passive techniques on a symptomatic nerve when it is placed into and out of tension to facilitate movement and reduce symptoms.
- Function retraining – This includes reintroducing movements, such as lifting, carrying, and bending or squatting. The use of proper technique and healthy movement patterns are incorporated to reduce pain and prevent re-injury.
Overall, what exercise is best for your thigh pain will depend on where are experiencing pain…here are some exercise examples for you to try:
Supine adductor stretch
Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Next, grab a stretch strap and place it around the ball of the foot of the leg you want to stretch. Straighten the knee toward the ceiling, adjusting the angle as needed if your hamstrings are too tight. Then, let the leg fall out toward the side toward the floor as far as possible, with the inner thigh facing up toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds before repeating 2-3 times a day.
Side-lying hip adduction
Lie on your side with the leg you want to exercise on the bottom. Bend and rotate the top hip and knee so that you can place your foot flat on the ground in front of the knee of the thigh that is still touching the ground. Keep your hips stacked and knee straight as you tense up the inner thigh as you start to lift your lower leg straight up toward the ceiling. Hold for 2-3 seconds before repeating this method 2-3 times a day.
Lateral leg raise
Lie on your side with the hip you want to exercise on top. Bend the bottom knee and hip for stability so that you lift the top leg without wobbling. Keep the upper leg straight and in line with your trunk, then tighten your abs to promote hip stability as you lift the entire leg straight up toward the ceiling. Lift as high as is comfortable before returning to your starting position. Keep the knee and toes pointing straight forward and hip in neutral as you repeat this exercise 2-3 times a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
The following below are some homeopathic treatments to help ease your symptoms and find relief on your own:
- Rest – If movement is painful in the early stages of thigh pain, rest your legs and stay off them as much as you can until you are able to move without pain.
- Ice – Keep an ice pack on your legs for about 20 minutes every hour over the first 3 days after symptoms begin. Avoid using heat, as it may make swelling worse.
- Compression – Wrap an elastic bandage around your legs or wear compression stockings, which uses pressure to keep swelling down.
- Elevation – Keep your legs raised above the level of your heart for 30 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day, so that gravity can help move fluids out and toward the rest of your body.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen may help ease swelling and pain.
- Turmeric – Turmeric is known to contain anti-inflammatory properties and can help boost your recovery naturally.