Leg Pain Above the Knee

Runner leg pain during training
A running feeling pain above his knee (Image: blyjak/iStock/Getty Images)

Many conditions can cause leg pain above the knee. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, leg pain, including that above the knee or thigh pain, is a common health complaint. Thigh pain may be caused by tissues within the thigh, or it may be referred from another part of the body, such as the lower back. Upper-leg pain ranges from mild and annoying to severe and debilitating, depending on the cause. Consult your doctor if you are concerned about the pain, it persists or worsens, or it is accompanied by worrisome symptoms such as swelling, redness or fever.

Anatomy

The upper leg is the area between the hip joint and the knee joint. The upper leg is comprised of muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. Leg pain above the knee can be generated by any one of these tissues. The femur, or thigh bone, is the only bone in the upper leg, and it too can generate pain due to fracture, infection, bruising or tumors. The upper leg contains several different muscle compartments, including the thigh muscles, hamstring muscles and groin muscles.

Causes

Numerous conditions or injuries can cause leg pain above the knee. Pain in the upper leg can be caused by overuse injuries, traumatic injuries involving blunt-force trauma and a wide variety of acute or chronic medical conditions. Leg pain above the knee may also be caused by bone cancer, fractures of the femur, hip bursitis, fibromyalgia, muscle strains, hip dislocations, muscle cramps, osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, tendinitis and certain blood-vessel disorders, such as peripheral arterial disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with upper-leg pain depend on the cause of the pain, the extent of the damage or injury and the specific tissue types affected. Common signs and symptoms associated with upper-leg pain or pain above the knee include deep aching, burning, sharp or stabbing pain in the upper leg, bruising or swelling in the affected area, limping, an inability to bear weight on the affected side and decreased active range of motion in the hip or knee joints.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing leg pain above the knee, including regular participation in contact sports such as football or hockey, insufficient warm-up prior to physical activity, previous upper-leg injuries, dehydration or electrolyte imbalance and muscle imbalances. Lifestyle factors can also contribute to upper-leg pain. Certain blood-vessel disorders that can cause pain above the knee may result from a lack of physical activity and a poor diet, such as atherosclerosis and blood clots.

Treatment

Many causes of leg pain above the knee — particularly pain caused by repetitive strain or overuse injuries — can be treated using conservative care methods. The Sports Injury Clinic website lists methods including rest, ice, compression and elevation, mobilization of the injured tissues and body segment, stretching and strengthening exercises, activity modification, sports massage and certain physical-therapy modalities, such as cold laser and ultrasound. If leg pain fails to resolve with these measures, contact your doctor.

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