What is thigh pain?
Thigh pain is any type of pain or discomfort affecting the area stretching from the pelvis to the knee. Your thighs provide structural support and enable movement, and are made up of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
Thigh muscles provide motion and tendons anchor your thigh muscles to the bones of the pelvis and lower leg. Ligaments hold the thigh bone (femur) together with the pelvis and the lower leg bones to create the hip and knee joints. Nerves control 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 paresthesias, 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. Thigh pain caused by a minor muscle strain or contusion may be controlled with home treatments, such as rest, ice, elevation of the leg, and pain relievers.
In some cases, thigh pain may be caused by a serious or life-threatening condition, such as deep vein thrombosis, bone fracture, or hip dislocation. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have difficulty moving the leg or walking; deformity of the knee, thigh or hip; severe pain; sudden swelling or color changes in the thigh; or uncontrolled bleeding from a thigh injury.
What other symptoms might occur with thigh pain?
Thigh pain can develop along with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Additional symptoms can involve other body systems or areas, such as the cardiovascular and neurological systems. Other symptoms that may accompany thigh pain include:
Bruising, laceration or abrasion
Burning or prickling feeling
Change in gait such as limping
Reduced range of motion
Tingling, pain, or other abnormal sensations in the toes
Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition
In some cases, thigh pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition, such as deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the leg that can travel to the lungs and cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Other serious conditions include a fracture or infection. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have other serious symptoms, with or without thigh pain, including:
Change in consciousness or alertness such as fainting
Discolored, unusually pale, or cold leg
Inability to walk or put weight on your leg
Popping sound at time of injury
Red, warm and swollen calf or leg
Severe swelling or deformity of the knee, thigh or hip
What causes thigh pain?
There are a wide variety of conditions that can cause thigh pain. For example, thigh pain can be caused by physical activity, injury, or age-related wear and tear on the hips and knees, which may 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).
Trauma and injury-related causes of thigh pain
Thigh pain may be caused by injuries and other trauma including:
Bone fracture (broken bone) or dislocation, especially of the hip or thigh bone (femur)
Groin pull or strain
Laceration, abrasion or contusion of the thigh
Ligament sprains and tears, especially of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) of the knees, which ensure leg and knee stability. Sprains and tears may cause pain or discomfort in the thigh area near the joint.
Meniscus tear (tear in the shock-absorbing cartilage of the knee)
Strained or pulled thigh muscles, such as a hamstring or quadriceps muscle strain
Tendinitis (inflammation or irritation of tendons due to overuse or injury)
Infectious causes of thigh pain
Thigh pain can be caused by various infections including:
Cellulitis (invasive infection of the skin and surrounding tissues)
Infection of a wound or sore
Infection of the knee or hip, which can lead to septic arthritis and cause pain in the joint that radiates to the thigh area
Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
Neurological causes of thigh pain
Thigh pain can be caused by neurological conditions that cause inflammation, entrapment, compression, or damage to the nerves including:
Other causes of thigh pain
Thigh pain can be due to other causes including:
Compartment syndrome (pressure within muscles builds to dangerous levels, reducing vital blood flow to nerve and muscle cells)
Fibromyalgia (chronic condition causing widespread muscular pain, stiffness and tenderness)
Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the walls of arteries, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
Restless legs syndrome (RLS; a movement disorder characterized by a powerful urge to move your legs, especially when lying down or sitting)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of thigh pain
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you several questions related to your thigh pain. Giving complete answers to these questions will help your health care provider diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Questions may include:
In what part of the thigh do you feel pain?
When did the pain start?
How long does the pain last?
Are there any activities that improve or worsen the pain?
Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
Complications of thigh pain can vary depending on the underlying cause. Pain due to a minor condition, such as a mild muscle strain or contusion, usually responds to rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, some underlying causes of thigh pain, such as diabetic neuropathy and peripheral artery disease, can lead to serious and possibly life-threatening complications including:
Loss of hip or knee joint mobility
Permanent nerve damage
Poor quality of life
Spread of infection and serious infections, such as gangrene, which can lead to amputation
Weakness or paralysis
It is important to contact your health care provider when you have persistent pain or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider can lower your risk of complications.