What can cause upper thigh pain?

In Diagnosis & Treatment by Dr. Clinton Osborn

Upper thigh pain is a common issue. In some cases, it’s not very alarming; however, in other instances, it can be a severe medical issue. The usual symptoms of upper thigh pain are numbness, burning sensation, tingling, difficulty walking, and itching. 

If the pain comes on suddenly and does not respond to the usual treatment, such as resting, applying heat, and using an ice pack, then it’s time to call for medical help. At GuruMD, you can get a medical consultation right away with our licensed physicians. There are various causes of upper thigh pain, and here are the common conditions that you can check out.

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Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome

Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome often occurs in the outer part of the upper thigh. This is often caused by repetitive movement, pressure, and injury. This usually happens to female athletes who play sports that require constant running. 

Activities and conditions that can worsen GTPS include:

  • Lying on the affected side
  • Hip muscle weakness
  • Pain that worsens over time, and 
  • Pain that happens after weight-bearing exercises. 

The treatment of this medical condition includes applying ice, heat, physical therapy, weight loss, steroid injections, and taking anti-inflammatory medications. To find out which treatment is best for you, contact a physician at GuruMD.

IT Band Syndrome

The iliotibial band travels down the thigh from the hip and skin. It can become stiff and inflamed. The symptoms include swelling, pain, and tightness. The treatment for this includes physical therapy, resting, painkiller medication, and applying ice and heat.

Spinal stenosis 

There are a lot of sensitive nerves that run between the spines. Spinal stenosis occurs when the vertebral canal narrows, therefore compressing the nerves that run through it. When this happens, it can lead to radiating pain that can affect the upper thigh and leg. 

Your thighs with feel heavy and numb as well as significant back pain. Spinal stenosis is often worse when the back is extended because that strengthens the compression. In addition to that,  standing and walking exacerbate the pain, but sitting and back flexion alleviates it.

Quadriceps or hamstring tendonitis

Repetitive stress on your thigh muscles can lead to inflammation, pain, and swelling of the tendon, known as tendonitis. The symptoms of hamstrings or quadriceps tendonitis make it difficult to walk or climb the stairs. It also weakens the muscles in the upper thigh and can cause pain in the thigh near the knee or hip. The symptoms can last for 4 to 6 weeks, and gentle exercise and rest are the best courses of action.

Stroke

A stroke is often caused by high blood pressure and smoking. It involves a clot obstructing the blood vessels in the brain. When this happens, it can damage the way the nerves control the muscles. This can lead to severe tightness and spasticity that affects the muscles controlling the upper thighs and legs. That is why a lot of stroke patients often experience pain in various areas of their bodies like the upper thigh.

Sprain/Strain

There are a significant number of muscles in the upper thigh, so pain in that region is often due to a muscle sprain or strain. This can impact the tendons and ligaments in the thigh. 

A sprain is an overstretched or torn ligament, and the ligament functions to connect the bone with another bone. A strain, on the other hand, is an overstretched or torn tendon or muscle, and tendons function to connect the muscles to the bone. 

Either way, symptoms you may experience include pain that radiate in a different direction, difficulty moving and stretching the thigh, swelling in the affected area, and sudden pain after an intense workout.

Overuse Injuries

An overuse injury can occur when the muscles around the upper thigh area remain active for such a long period. This can be due to excessive exercise or activity that can over exhaust the muscles. The pain would get worse over time and with repeated movement. The best treatment strategy for this is to rest the muscles and apply alternating ice and heat.

Inactive lifestyle

Not getting enough exercise and spending the majority of the day sitting on a chair can apply pressure to the joints and muscles. The lack of activity can weaken the muscle leading to a multitude of pain. Keep in mind that a sedentary lifestyle can induce pain throughout the body, and can change in intensity throughout time. This is also mainly because a sedentary lifestyle can stiffen the muscles and make them vulnerable to pain.

Radiating pain

If a person feels pain in the hip or knee region, it can radiate to the upper thigh, causing stiff muscles and pain in that region as well.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is often due to nerve injury or severe diabetes. High blood sugar levels and injuries can damage nearby nerves resulting in symptoms of numbness, tingling sensation, shooting pain, and burning sensation. Usually, the treatment of choice is prescription gabapentin to reduce the symptoms.

Meralgia paresthetica

This is due to the damage and pressure on the lateral part of the cutaneous nerve that is located on the outer region of the thigh. It can lead to a burning and shooting sensation that causes constant numbness in the upper thigh and hip.

Sciatica

The sciatic nerve is located in the lower back, and branches off and spread down to the thighs and legs. Any injury or irritation in the sciatic nerve can result in radiating pain that can travel to the upper thighs, and shoot down the legs.

If this is the case, definitely see the doctor for an MRI to check. The treatment for sciatic nerves is often anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, muscle relaxant, and in rare cases, surgery.

DVT

DVT stands for deep vein thrombosis, and it’s a blood clot that often appears in the lower legs. However, it can also be on the upper thigh resulting in pain, swelling, warm sensation, tenderness, and bluish discoloration. 

The problem with DVT is that it can break off and travel to the heart and lungs, leading to pulmonary embolism, which can result in shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid pulse, coughing up blood, and dizziness. 

The risk factors of DVT are estrogen medication, birth control, smoking, family history of DVT, injury to the veins, obesity, pregnancy, and surgery. Treatment of DVT is heparin and warfarin prescription blood thinners. 

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Minor pain

There are minor conditions such as bruises that can occur in the upper thigh. The pain is often throbbing, but will not radiate anywhere else.

Have minor upper thigh pain? Learn how GuruMD can give you a virtual house call to diagnose your symptoms.

Chronic pain

There are also other chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia where patients would experience widespread pain and fatigue at a specific area like the upper thigh. Arthritis and osteoarthritis can result in joint pain in the thigh.

What are the risk factors of upper thigh pain

The risk factor for upper thigh pain is a chronic medical condition such as arthritis and diabetes, intensive workout, sedentary lifestyle, sports, injuries, and poor circulation.

How to Diagnose Upper Thigh Pain?

When you see a doctor, there are various ways that the provider can diagnose you. There are imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, an x-ray. 

There are blood tests to look for specific elements to help with the diagnosis, such as CBC, ESR, white blood cell count, and much more. Procedures like joint aspiration can remove fluid from the joint to check for underlying problems like infection. Electromyography can check for neuropathy. After talking to a physician at GuruMD, they will recommend next steps so you can get the proper testing and treatment.

How to Treat Upper Thigh Pain?

The treatment of upper thigh pain depends on the underlying medical condition. Minor issues can be managed at home with plenty of rest, painkillers, heat, ice, elevation, compression, and massages. However, there are also other forms of treatment. These include physical therapy, surgery, prescription medication, blood thinners, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic solutions.

What are the Complications of Upper Thigh Pain?

If upper thigh pain is left untreated, it can radiate to other areas in the body resulting in chronic pain. The most common complication is a blood clot in the upper thigh that can break off and block an artery. This is called an embolism, and it can be extremely fatal.

How to Prevent Upper Thigh Pain

The best step in preventing upper thigh pain include daily stretching, being active, avoid going over the limit when it comes to exercising, work out with a personal trainer, and manage medical conditions such as arthritis and diabetes.

What is the prognosis of upper thigh pain

Usually, upper thigh pain is curable. The first step is to diagnose the problem and obtain the proper treatment. Keep in mind that not all illness is treatable. It may take multiple treatments before experiencing some improvement. Most people recover, while others would have to wait months or even years to experience any improvement. The sooner you talk to a medical professional, the better.

Take home message

There are a variety of causes to upper thigh pain. If medication such as painkillers, icing, warmth, stretches, and rest does not help, then definitely see a doctor.

Keep in mind that upper thigh cane can be due to something as simple as a harmless like a sprain and strain to something more complex like neuropathy, clots, and other medical issues. It can be overwhelming because of the vast array of causes. That is why if the pain does not go away, you should see a provider for a physical exam and blood test. Take a look at GuruMD subscription plans for a medical diagnosis related to upper thigh pain and other ailments.
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