Recognizing Meralgia Paresthetica

Eric H. Williams MD
Specializing in reconstructive surgery and pain relief in the Greater Baltimore area.

If you are having tingling or burning pain, or numbness, in your outer thigh, you may be experiencing a condition known as meralgia paresthetica – which is caused by a pinched or compressed lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. This nerve is responsible for supplying sensation to your upper thigh and can become compressed for various reasons.Person holding their outer thigh in pain

For most people, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve passes to the upper thigh through the groin without any issue. In the case of this particular condition, the nerve can become trapped under the inguinal ligament, which runs across the groin as it spans the abdomen and upper thigh.

The burning pain of meralgia paresthetica is most likely to be experienced on the surface of the outer thigh, whereas tingling and numbness could potentially run a bit deeper.

Typically, the symptoms will only present on one side of the body—as opposed to presenting on both sides at the same time—and tend to intensify when you are walking or standing.

Common causes of meralgia paresthetica include anything placing increased pressure on the groin region, such as:

  • Tight pants, belts, and other articles of clothing
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Frequently wearing a heavy tool belt
  • Scar tissue on or near the inguinal ligament from a previous surgery or injury
  • Pregnancy

Additionally, this condition may be caused by a nerve injury. In this case, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve may have become damaged because of diabetes or perhaps a seat belt injury from a motor vehicle accident.

Not everyone is at equal risk of meralgia paresthetica. Individuals who are more at risk include those between the ages of 30 and 60, have diabetes, are pregnant, and/or carry extra weight.

A proper diagnosis can often be made with a physical exam and study of your medical history—along with hearing you describe the symptoms you’re experiencing—but we do have additional diagnostic options, like imaging studies, electromyography, nerve conduction studies, and nerve blocks (which we may perform here in our office).

Whereas an exam and medical history can certainly point us in this direction, it can be important to use other diagnostic techniques to rule out other potential causes for your symptoms.

Once the condition has been properly diagnosed, we will determine if any of our techniques are appropriate and perhaps begin working on your treatment plan. We will discuss potential treatment options for meralgia paresthetica in our next blog post.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact our Baltimore office for an appointment if you have burning, tingling, or numbness in your outer thigh. The problem could be meralgia paresthetica and we may be able to help, so call us today at (410) 709-3868.

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