Pain in the upper thigh can be difficult to diagnose since this region of the body includes many muscles, tendons , and ligaments.
This kind of pain can also be attributed to mild muscle injuries that are treatable at home. If the pain is severe or does not go away, however, it may signify a more serious problem.
In this article, we discuss some common causes of pain in the upper thigh, along with any symptoms that may occur alongside. We also take a look at the treatment options and how to avoid this form of pain.
Causes of upper thigh pain
Upper thigh pain can be caused by muscle injuries, nerve problems, and a few other conditions.
The discomfort in this area is mostly attributed to a muscle injury because of a large number of muscles in the upper thigh. In this area, some common muscle injuries include:
Muscle sprains and strains
Each of the many muscles , ligaments and tendons in the thigh may be affected by sprains and strains.
A torn or stretched ligament is a sprain. Ligaments connect bones to other bones.
A torn or damaged muscle or tendon is a strain. Tendons bind bones to muscles.
Symptoms of a strain or sprain include:
- sudden pain following a fall, an intense workout, or an overstretched joint
- pain that spreads (radiates) up or down
- difficulty stretching or moving the thigh
- swelling around the painful area
Injuries from overuse
Overuse injuries can occur when a muscle works too hard for too long in or around the thigh, or when a person does not warm up before exercise.
Over time, the pain continues to get worse. Eventually, even when a person rests in the injured region, the pain can occur.
Pain after exercise or heavy physical activity is the main sign of an overuse injury. The pain may affect both thighs.
The muscles can be weakened by not having enough exercise or spending too much time sitting each day, causing chronic pain.
Sitting for long periods can put pressure , especially on the hips and legs, on the joints and muscles. Lack of exercise can also cause the muscles to weaken, causing muscle pain to become widespread.
People who have upper thigh pain can also experience pain in their body due to a sedentary lifestyle. Over time, the pain may shift or alter in severity, and some people with this form of pain can experience chronic pain that is widespread.
Radiating pain from another injury
Injuries can cause pain to spread to the upper thighs in other regions of the body. A hip injury, for example, can radiate down to the legs.
Some accidents alter how a person moves, causing them, without noticing, to stiffen their muscles. In the thighs and legs, this may cause pain. In nearby places, such as in the hips or knees, if a person experiences discomfort, this may also be the reason why their thighs hurt.
People can also feel pain in the upper thigh from nerves. If there is damage to the nerves, nerve pain occurs. And when there is no physical injury to the thigh, this causes the sensation of pain.
Some common types of nerve pain include:
Nerve damage that causes nerve pain is peripheral neuropathy. Sometimes, it is due to other factors, including diabetes.
In the thighs and else here, people with this pain can feel odd sensations, including burning, numbness, prickly sensations, and shooting pains.
Meralgia paresthetica is also called Bernhardt-Roth syndrome. This painful sensation can be caused by damage to or pressure on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, a nerve that affects the sensation outside the thigh.
An individual may feel this pain as burning or shooting and periodic numbness in the upper thigh and hips may be caused by the condition.
It can be intensely painful to have a bruise, even one that is not noticeable. In a single region, this pain is sometimes throbbing and occurs.
Typically, pain from a mild injury such as a bruise does not radiate elsewhere.
In the upper thigh, various chronic conditions can cause pain. At particular pressure points, people with fibromyalgia feel chronic, widespread pain. Leg pain also happens just above the knees and on the upper thighs of the back.
Various kinds of arthritis, even in the thighs, can cause pain in the body. In the hip and knee joints, the pain of osteoarthritis is mostly localized but may radiate down or up.
Upper thigh pain can occasionally be caused by a blood clot in a blood vessel. Also known as deep vein thrombosis ( DVT), if the clot breaks loose and passes to the lungs , heart, or brain, this painful condition can become life-threatening.
There is an increased risk of developing DVT in people who take long flights, are sedentary for extended periods, have poor circulation, smoke, have cardiovascular disease, or are pregnant or overweight.
- unexplained pain in a leg that does not get better after a few days
- swelling, redness, or heat along a leg vein
- tenderness in a specific spot on the leg
- pain when walking
- shortness of breath when a clot breaks loose and moves to the heart and then to the lungs (pulmonary embolus)
A blood clot is a medical emergency that requires medical attention immediately.
Pain in various parts of the thigh
Often the front, sides, and back of the thigh may radiate pain, and each can occur due to different causes.
Outside of the thigh
A trapped nerve in the lower back of the third vertebrae (L3), also referred to as sciatica, can cause pain to radiate to the outside of the thigh.
Back of the thigh
Hamstring injuries or sprains can trigger pain in the back of the thigh.
Front of the thigh
Sciatica in L3 can refer to the front of the thigh as well as pain. A quadriceps strain or bruise may also cause pain in this area.
There are many causes of upper thigh pain, and the risk factors differ. Such risk variables include:
- chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
- taking part in sports
- a sedentary lifestyle
- poor circulation
- a history of injuries to the legs or hips
The cause of upper thigh pain can not be diagnosed by any single examination.
Generally , the process starts with an inspection of the region. A full medical history will also be taken by the doctor and asked about recent injuries.
If no apparent cause is discovered by the doctor, diagnostic tests can include:
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans to view the muscles
- X-rays to check the bones
- ultrasound imaging to check for blood clots
- blood tests to assess for medical conditions such as arthritis
- joint aspiration, a procedure that involves removing fluid from a joint to check for certain joint problems
- nerve tests, such as nerve conduction studies and electromyography
Upper thigh pain treatment depends on the cause.
With home treatment, minor injuries often improve, including rest, heat, ice, compression, elevation, and gentle massage.
Other possibilities for treatment can include:
- pain relief medication for unexplained chronic pain
- medication for chronic conditions, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis
- surgery to repair damaged or trapped nerves
- physical and exercise therapy
- surgery to repair damaged muscles, tendons, or ligaments
- physical therapy
- diabetes medications to prevent further nerve damage
- blood thinners if there is a blood clot in the leg
- alternative treatments, such as massage therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture
Left untreated, upper thigh pain can get worse. It can also radiate to other body parts, making it impossible to move and causing persistent pain.
If there is a blood clot in the leg, the most serious complication is These blood clots will break free, which is when an artery is blocked, and cause an embolism.
In a matter of minutes, an embolism may be fatal. An individual should see a doctor if leg pain is serious, appears out of nowhere, or does not improve in a couple of days.
Some measures that can help to avoid pain in the upper thigh include:
- remaining physically active
- taking frequent stretching breaks during extended periods of sitting
- stretching before and after exercise
- working with a personal trainer to determine a healthful level of activity that will not lead to overuse injuries
- managing and treating medical conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis
The majority of the pain in the upper thigh is treatable and curable.
In this area of the body, the most critical thing with pain is getting a diagnosis. Visits to multiple physicians may be needed to ascertain the source of the pain.
However, not all pain is readily treatable. People with unexplained chronic pain may need to try several treatments before something works. However, with persistent treatment, most individuals may recover from upper thigh pain.