Meralgia paresthetica occurs when the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve — which supplies sensation to the surface of your outer thigh — becomes compressed, or pinched. The lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is purely a sensory nerve and doesn’t affect your ability to use your leg muscles. In most people, this nerve passes through the groin to the upper thigh without trouble. But in meralgia paresthetica, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve becomes trapped — often under the inguinal ligament, which runs along your groin from your abdomen to your upper thigh.
Common causes of this compression include any condition that increases pressure on the groin, including:
- Tight clothing, such as belts, corsets and tight pants
- Obesity or weight gain
- Wearing a heavy tool belt
- Scar tissue near the inguinal ligament due to injury or past surgery
- Nerve injury, which can be due to diabetes or seat belt injury after a motor vehicle accident, for example, also can Risk factors
The following might increase your risk of meralgia paresthetica:
- Extra weight. Being overweight or obese can increase the pressure on your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
- Pregnancy. A growing belly puts added pressure on your groin, through which the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve passes.
- Diabetes. Diabetes-related nerve injury can lead to meralgia paresthetica.
- Age. People between the ages of 30 and 60 are at a higher risk.
Reducing hip tightness is one way to alleviate the symptoms of meralgia paresthetica by improving flexibility and building strength. Bridging consists of lying flat on the floor and lifting your bottom up while tightening your gluteal muscles. Hip extensions involve lying on your belly and lifting your leg up while tightening the gluteals. Standing hip abduction requires standing upright while slowly lifting each leg to one side, keeping the knee straight. Such exercises should not cause any thigh pain.
The quadriceps muscles are located next to the sensory nerve involved in meralgia paresthetica. Stretching these muscles can improve flexibility and strength in the upper thigh. A traditional quad stretch involves pulling the heel of your foot back toward your buttocks while standing, stretching the length of the upper thigh. Again, stretching should cease if pain occurs.
Lunges strengthen both the hips and quadriceps muscles to help prevent thigh pain. These start by standing upright and stepping forward with one foot, lowering the body until the opposite knee touches the ground at a right angle. The exercise then can either be reversed or proceed forward by stepping with the opposite leg.
More advanced outer thigh exercises can incorporate resistance bands to improve flexibility and strength. A resistance band is looped around the ankle and tied at the other end to a solid, immovable object. A variety of exercises can then be accomplished, including extending the hip backward, outward and forward. These should only be conducted when outer thigh pain is completely gone.
While exercises are important to recovery, the most immediate response to meralgia paresthetica should be rest. Athletes might try cross-training as a way to maintain fitness without aggravating the condition. Weight loss and wearing loosely fitting clothes, will also help relieve symptoms.