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Burning Thigh Pain? 10 Unexpected Causes of Meralgia Paresthetica

Do you have a burning pain in your thigh and lap that hardly lets up? Your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve runs from a section of the spine in your lower back down your thigh. When this nerve gets compressed, it can show up as tingly, numb pain in your thigh.

It’s called meralgia paresthetica or Bernhardt-Roth syndrome. It can start as slightly uncomfortable but grow to become extremely painful and debilitating.

Some people won’t get the symptoms checked out because the symptoms lessen when they avoid what exacerbates it. Many brush it off the feeling as something they get “when they wear something too tight” or “overdo it.” But If the diagnosis is late or missed entirely, a patient can suffer permanent disability. Pain can keep increasing, and leaving it untreated can lead to paralysis.1

Have you experienced any of these common meralgia paresthetica causes?

1. Your thigh pain started after surgery

It’s not uncommon for people to report thigh pain after a surgery that dealt with a nerve farther up their back. After all, the thigh nerve travels out of your lower spine. Some surgeries that can lead to meralgia paresthetica include hip surgery, hernia surgery, C-sections, and orthopedic procedures. In one spine surgery study, 20% of patients following up had an injury to that femoral cutaneous nerve.2

2. You wear tight clothing

Did you know that clothes and accessories can be frequent causes of thigh pain? These offenders include tight belts, skinny jeans, waist trainers, heavy tool belts, and tight underwear. Meralgia paresthetica is sometimes called skinny jeans syndrome.3 Sufferers find that wearing tight clothing can make their pain worse.

3. You have pain but it doesn’t affect your leg muscles or movement

People with meralgia paresthetica report a burning, numb, or tingly pain on the outside of their thigh. Some report decreased sensation, even though the pain is present. However, the pain and numbness don’t hinder their ability to move their leg. It also doesn’t come with back pain, which is a common reason meralgia paresthetica can be misdiagnosed as something else.4

Also, the symptoms are usually only in one thigh. But one out of five people dealing with meralgia paresthesia has it on both sides. Bilateral meralgia paresthetica is often related to previous surgery.

4. You’re 30 to 60 years old…or you’re a child

Meralgia paresthetica can affect anyone at any age. But it’s mostly found in middle-aged adults. Studies are showing that there may be more children dealing with meralgia paresthesia and previously thought. Children with limb length discrepancy, pelvic crush injuries, or who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident are at serious risk for getting the nerve pinched.

5. You’re pregnant

The extra-abdominal weight can strain the femoral cutaneous nerve. The pain can get worse as you get farther along in the pregnancy. It usually goes away after birth. Meralgia paresthetica generally does not cause complications during the birthing process.5

6. You carry a lot of weight around your midsection

This can be from obesity, pregnancy, heavy tool belts, uterine fibroids, and tumors in the pelvis.6 Pressure around the groin squishes and stretches the nerve.

7. You’ve been doing a certain activity for long periods

There isn’t a specific activity that’s usually the culprit of meralgia paresthetica. Instead, it’s one activity for a long time, or over and over. This can be standing, sitting, running, or biking.7

8. You have diabetes

This disease is a prime offender when it comes to nerve pain. It damages nerves and creates neuropathy. Most diabetics are familiar with this neuropathy in the feet and legs. However, it can also be in the thighs.

9. You have carpal tunnel

One of the few studies done to find meralgia paresthesia correlations found a significant number of people also had carpal tunnel.8  The reasoning isn’t understood well, but it’s an important factor. It can help your doctor determine whether you’re more at risk for it. It might be related to how easily your nerves become trapped. Carpal tunnel, after all, is an entrapment of a nerve running down your wrist and hand.

10. You wear a seatbelt tightly…or had a motor vehicle accident

A seat belt worn tightly for a long period can do the similar damage that a tight pair of skinny jeans would. A motor vehicle accident can also cause a seatbelt to essentially clothesline the femoral cutaneous nerve. 

Meralgia paresthetica treatment

How can doctors know meralgia paresthetica is the problem, and not something else? After all, it’s often misdiagnosed. To start, your doctor will look for clusters of risks and symptoms when they review your health history. And if your symptoms are relieved by a local anesthetic nerve block, your doctor can usually confirm that meralgia paresthetica is the right diagnosis.9

If your doctor suspects that meralgia paresthetica is the problem, they’ll start you out with some conservative measures. For many people, symptoms resolve on their own,  like with a pregnancy. For others, conservative treatments can look like:

  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Losing abdominal weight
  • Adjusting activities to avoid sitting, standing, and more for long periods
  • Managing diabetes
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications
  • Doing meralgia paresthetica stretches
  • Starting physical therapy

Sometimes, conservative measures aren’t enough.

Meralgia paresthetica can cause long-term damage if it’s not relieved. That’s why many people with serious cases are turning to surgery.

Considering surgical meralgia paresthetica treatment for permanent relief?

If you feel like you tried it all, and your doctor says they’re not sure what’s going on, we want to help. Peripheral nerves, like your lateral cutaneous femoral nerve that causes meralgia paresthetica is Dr. Tollestrup’s specialty. Dr. Tollestrup has successfully cured many patients of Meralgia Paresthetica pain with a relatively simple, out-patient surgical procedure. 

[This article should not replace medical advice or be used for medical diagnosis. We can’t guarantee a diagnosis or treatment outcome, so we urge you to speak with a medical doctor about your health concerns.]


  1. https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/brain-and-nerves/meralgia-paresthetica
  2. https://journals.lww.com/spinejournal/Abstract/2000/05150/Injuries_to_the_Lateral_Femoral_Cutaneous_Nerve.11.aspx
  3. http://drmorgan.info/clinicians-corner/meralgia-paresthetica-skinny-jean-syndrome/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/meralgia-paresthetica
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15636988/
  6.  https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/8/8/669/1909720
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/meralgia-paresthetica
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15015008/
  9. https://journals.lww.com/jaaos/Fulltext/2001/09000/Meralgia_Paresthetica__Diagnosis_and_Treatment.7.aspx

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