The first time you feel it, you might not think much of it. Just a little bit of numbness toward the top of your leg. Odd, but probably no big deal. But then you might notice that it doesn’t seem to go away. And the numbness might shift to a tingling—or maybe even a burning—sensation. Now that spot toward the top of your leg has your attention. So much so that it might be keeping you up at night.
If you have been experiencing a tingling, burning, or numb sensation on your outer thigh, you may be dealing with meralgia paresthetica, a condition that is caused by the compression of the nerve supplying sensation to the skin of your thigh. That nerve is called the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
We’ve just tossed a bunch of unfamiliar words at you, but the fact is the condition we’re talking about is much simpler than its fancy name might suggest. Again, meralgia paresthetica is caused by a compressed nerve (often called a pinched nerve) and results in uncomfortable sensations in your outer thigh. Those sensations vary from person to person but most people describe a numbness, tingling, and/or a burning sensation on the outer part of the thigh that worsens when it is touched.
Generally, people experience the symptoms on one side of the body. For some, the symptoms may be worse after a period of walking or standing. The condition has no impact on the function of the leg, but the discomfort is still problematic for many.
Causes of Meralgia Paresthetica
There are a range of risk factors and causes that can lead to the pinching of the nerve in question as it passes through the groin en route to the thigh. These include:
- Wearing overly tight clothing or a heavy tool belt
- Diabetes-related nerve injury
- Being overweight or obese
- Injury due to being restrained by a seat belt in a car crash
- Scar tissue in the area of the inguinal ligament in the groin as a result of injury or surgery
- Alcoholism, hypothyroidism, and exposure to lead
- Age (Those between 30 and 60 appear to have a higher risk of developing the condition.)
To diagnose the issue, your doctor will ask you about the factors listed above and will perform a physical examination. Blood tests and imaging tests may also be useful in some cases. A nerve conduction study is another possibility.
Approaches to Improving Meralgia Paresthetica
In some cases, meralgia paresthetica can be addressed fairly simply. For example, you could go up a pants size and discover that the problem resolves. Weight loss may also help clear up the condition.
If symptoms do not improve, your doctor may recommend or prescribe medication to relieve the ongoing discomfort, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Corticosteroid injections and injectable pain medications are additional options.
Other options may include:
- Physical therapy
- TENS treatment, which uses an electric current to stimulate the nerve
- Phonophoresis, which employs ultrasound waves to aid in the absorption of topical pain relievers
Sometimes, however, the best solution is to surgically release the compressed nerve so that normal sensation is restored to the affected area of the leg.
Nerve Release Surgery Can Provide Relief
Since the problem is caused by a compressed nerve, it only stands to reason that the solution to the problem would involve releasing the nerve.
A peripheral nerve specialist can perform a minimally invasive surgery that releases the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve—thereby restoring normal sensation to your upper thigh and putting an ending to the burning, tingling, and numbness.
If other approaches to addressing meralgia paresthetica have been ineffectual, it may well be time to consider a surgical solution.
Dr. Eric H. Williams Can Help You Get Relief From Meralgia Paresthetica
Dr. Williams is an expert when it comes to surgery to release nerves that have become entrapped and are therefore causing a variety of problems—including meralgia paresthetica. If you have been dealing with discomfort and can’t seem to find a long-term solution, contact us. Dr. Williams can diagnose the issue and recommend the best course of action. And if surgery is the right solution for you, he can provide an exceptional level of care.