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Causes of Pain Down the Outside of the Thigh

by
author image Aubrey Bailey
Aubrey Bailey has been writing health-related articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in ADVANCE for Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy and Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University at Buffalo, as well as a post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy from Utica College. Dr. Bailey is also a certified hand therapist.
Causes of Pain Down the Outside of the Thigh
Sudden outer thigh pain usually signals an injury in the area. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Climbing stairs, walking, rising from a chair and other daily activities may be difficult if you have pain along the outside of your thigh. The cause of the pain is sometimes obvious, such as when you pull a muscle during a sports activity or workout. However, your pain can also be caused by less obvious conditions, such as a pinched nerve or bursitis. Seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment if you have outer thigh pain.

Muscle-Related Injury

Muscle-related injuries are a common cause of pain in your outer thigh. A strain injury is most common, involving minor to severe tearing of a muscle or its associated tendon, which connects the muscle to bone. An important leg muscle and its tendon run from your pelvis along the outer thigh to your lower leg bone. Other muscles and tendons run from your pelvis to your upper thigh bone. The muscles and tendons in this area move your leg outward to the side.

A strain injury can occur suddenly if these muscles or tendons are overstretched. Strains can also develop gradually from overuse or weakness. Strain injuries typically cause dull, aching pain that increases when you stand on the affected leg. Treatments your doctor may recommend include ice, rest or activity modification, stretching and massage. A steroid injection may be used to decrease inflammation and help relieve your discomfort.

Hip Bursitis

Bursae are fluid-filled sacs located in various high-friction areas of your body, such as where muscle tendons slide over one another or a bone. These small sacs reduce friction and provide cushioning at many body sites, including the area over your outer hip where your thigh bone and pelvis meet. Inflammation of this sac, or hip bursitis, typically causes pain in the upper, outer thigh where your thigh bone protrudes. Hip bursitis typically causes sharp pain if the area is touched, and certain activities -- such as climbing stairs and standing from a seated position -- are usually quite painful. Common treatments your doctor may recommend include activity modification, physical therapy and a steroid injection to reduce inflammation of the bursa.

Spinal Nerve Compression

Nerves exit your spine to provide sensation to skin and power muscles throughout your body. Nerves known as L4 and L5 exit the lumbar spine in your lower back, supplying movement and sensory signals to your outer thigh. Compression of or damage to these nerves can cause pain in the area, which may vary depending on the position of your back. You may also experience tingling or numbness in your thigh. Spinal nerve compression sometimes leads to muscle weakness. Compression of the L4 and L5 nerves can limit your ability to raise your big toe, bend your foot downward, or rotate your foot outward. Treatment for this condition depends on the cause and severity of the nerve damage.

Other Causes

Damage to or compression of the nerve supplying sensation to the skin of your outer thigh can lead to burning pain, numbness or tingling in the area. This condition, known as meralgia paresthetica, can develop due to a variety of causes, such as repetitive movement, a hip injury, excessively tight clothing and weight gain. Nerve damage related to diabetes or a surgical procedure involving your hip, pelvis or abdomen are also possible causes. Less commonly, other medical problems can lead to pain in your outer thigh, including certain tumors, nervous system conditions and infections.

Warnings and Precautions

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have outer thigh pain, particularly if the cause is not obvious or the pain worsens. Seek immediate medical care if the pain developed due to a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident. Also seek urgent medical care if your pain is accompanied by any warning signs and symptoms, including:
-- sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis of the affected leg
-- loss of bowel or bladder control
-- inability to bear weight on the affected leg

Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.

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