Meralgia Paresthetica

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What is meralgia paresthetica?

Meralgia paresthetica, sometimes referred to as burning thigh pain, is a condition of the peripheral nervous system characterized by tingling, pain or numbness in the outer thigh. It arises when the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is compressed. This nerve supplies sensory information from the skin of the outer thigh to the brain. When compressed, it can cause heightened sensitivity or abnormal sensations.

Usually, meralgia paresthetica will resolve itself spontaneously or with lifestyle modifications such as wearing loose clothing. In cases in which meralgia paresthetica is painful, antiseizure or antidepressant medications that target the nervous system may be used. In extreme cases of meralgia paresthetica, surgical intervention may be necessary to release the compressed nerve.

Nerve compression can arise from swelling, injury, tight clothing, weight gain, and certain types of physical activity. In most cases, addressing the cause of the meralgia paresthetica will prevent any complications. Left untreated, however, meralgia paresthetica may lead to serious pain or paralysis.

Seek prompt medical care for persistent systems of meralgia paresthetica, such as numbness, tingling, or mild pain, as continued compression of the nerve may lead to permanent damage and paralysis.

What are the symptoms of meralgia paresthetica?

Symptoms of meralgia paresthetica include abnormal or heightened sensation in the outer thigh. Abnormal sensations may take the form of tingling, numbness, sensitivity to touch, or burning pain. In rare cases, pain may extend to the knees, groin, or buttocks. Symptoms generally occur on only one side of the body.

Common symptoms of meralgia paresthetica

You may experience meralgia paresthetica symptoms daily or just once in a while. At times any of these symptoms can be severe:

  • Burning sensation in the outer thigh
  • Numbness in the outer thigh
  • Pain in the knee, groin or buttocks
  • Pain in the outer thigh
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Tingling in the outer thigh

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, meralgia paresthetica can be a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Leg weakness
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in other parts of the body
  • Severe pain of the thigh that interferes with normal activities

What causes meralgia paresthetica?

Meralgia paresthetica is caused by pressure on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. This nerve brings sensory information from your outer thigh to your brain. When the nerve becomes compressed due to swelling, overly tight clothing, or some other cause, normal signaling by the nerve is prevented, which can lead to abnormal sensitivity. Common causes of meralgia paresthetica include:

  • Certain types of physical activity
  • Injury
  • Swelling
  • Tight clothing
  • Weight gain or obesity

What are the risk factors for meralgia paresthetica?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing meralgia paresthetica. Not all people with risk factors will get meralgia paresthetica. Risk factors for meralgia paresthetica include:

  • Obesity
  • Profession that requires the use of restrictive clothing

Reducing your risk of meralgia paresthetica

Many of the causes of meralgia paresthetica are modifiable lifestyle factors. You may be able to lower your risk of meralgia paresthetica by:

  • Avoiding activities that compress the thigh
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wearing loose clothing

How is meralgia paresthetica treated?

In some cases, meralgia paresthetica will resolve itself and will not require treatment. In most cases, however, it is treated by addressing the cause of nerve compression, such as by wearing loose clothing, avoiding certain physical activities, or losing weight. If meralgia paresthetica is painful or persistent, however, medical intervention may be required.

Medical treatments for meralgia paresthetica

In severe cases of meralgia paresthetica, modifying your lifestyle may not be sufficient to relieve symptoms. In such cases, treatments include:

  • Corticosteroid shots to relieve swelling around the nerve

  • Medications that control pain by suppressing nerve activity, such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants

  • Surgery to free the compressed nerve

What you can do to improve your meralgia paresthetica

To reduce the symptoms of meralgia paresthetica, you may benefit from:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stopping activities that put pressure on your thighs
  • Wearing loose clothing

Complementary treatments

Some complementary treatments may help some people in their efforts to deal with meralgia paresthetica. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for full medical care.

Complementary treatments may include:

What are the potential complications of meralgia paresthetica?

Complications from meralgia paresthetica are rare and generally easily prevented. However, complications of untreated, severe meralgia paresthetica can be serious. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of meralgia paresthetica include:

  • Paralysis
  • Severe pain
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. NINDS meralgia paresthetica information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/meralgia_paresthetica/meralgia_paresthetica.htm.
  2. Burning thigh pain (meralgia paresthetica). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00340.