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What Causes Burning Pain in the Thighs When Running?

author image Lee Simmons
Lee Simmons has 10 years of reporting experience covering a variety of issues for publications in South Carolina, California, and Texas. He also covered music industry issues for Soundcheck magazine and, among others. Simmons earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. He lives in Austin.
What Causes Burning Pain in the Thighs When Running?
A close-up of a fitness group running on the sidewalk together. Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

The thigh muscles, which include your quadriceps and hamstrings, bear a significant amount of stress from every stride taken during a run. This compounded stress can sometimes lead to a burning pain in the thigh muscles. If the pain in your thighs does not subside after rest and icing, consult your doctor for further treatment options.

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Muscle Strain

Burning pain in the thigh muscle could indicate a strain and is often incurred mid-run and characterized by a painful swelling sensation. The pain can be exacerbated when lengthening your stride or increasing speed. Likewise, incline and decline running, such as in trail running, can add additional shock to an injured thigh muscle. Thigh strains are graded from one to three; one being the least likely to sideline you from running and three being accompanied by painful swelling, bruising and a bulging of your quadriceps muscles.


Thigh pain is generally caused by a tear in the quadriceps muscle. The thigh becomes especially prone to tears when the hamstring overpowers the quadriceps. Runners frequently encounter this problem since the hamstring naturally works more than the quadriceps.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture in the femur is another possible cause of burning thigh pain in runners. While rarer in occurrence, stress fractures are much more serious than tears, sometimes requiring several weeks away from running to allow for sufficient recovery. X-rays and an MRI can typically ascertain the degree to which the femur has been fractured, and surgery is sometimes necessary.


Follow the R.I.C.E. method. Stop your activity. For less-serious tears, ice therapy is an effective treatment that can be performed at home. Place an ice pack on the affected area immediately after running and keep it applied for at least 10 minutes. Ice helps reduce pain and swelling and should be applied a few times a day. Anti-inflammatory medications are also useful in reducing swelling and pain. Finally, a bandage can be wrapped around the thigh to add compression and help keep swelling down. Elevate your legs to provide complete rest.


Proper warm-ups and cool downs are the best tools against sustaining future thigh injuries. A good warm-up includes a slow jog for 10 minutes followed by your normal running pace. Cool down after your run with static stretching for another 10 to 15 minutes. For a runner recovering from a recent injury, stretching should not be forced. Also, slower and shorter running are recommended to avoid the chance of re-injuring the thigh muscle.

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