There are many possible causes of outer thigh pain, which can range in severity from a mild, dull ache to intense pain. The treatment options will depend on the cause, but they might include pain medications and physical therapy.

The specific symptoms that a person experiences will likely depend on whether the pain stems from damage to the nerves, muscles, bone, or joint.

This article discusses the possible causes of outer thigh pain and their treatments. It also lists some exercises that people may find effective in relieving outer thigh pain.

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The type of pain that a person experiences can help with identifying the cause. For example, outer thigh pain may be from a nerve injury if the symptoms include:

  • a burning or tingling sensation
  • shooting pains up and down the leg
  • numbness in the thigh

Damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments may cause:

  • throbbing, deep aching, or general soreness
  • pain that worsens with pressure
  • pain that spreads to other areas
  • pain that worsens on changing positions or sitting for long periods

There may be an injury to the bone if symptoms include:

  • deep, intense pain
  • pain following a fall or accident
  • swelling or bruising in the area

Symptoms that could indicate a joint problem include:

  • pain that primarily occurs around the hip
  • pain on moving the joint
  • a deep ache that gradually worsens

Outer thigh pain has many possible causes. These include:

Meralgia paresthetica

Meralgia paresthetica can cause a painful burning sensation in the outer thigh. The condition occurs when the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve in the thigh becomes compressed or trapped.

The pain usually goes away on its own as the nerve heals. A doctor may recommend taking steps to avoid compressing the nerve, which may include wearing loose-fitting clothing.

The symptoms of meralgia paresthetica include:

  • a shooting or burning pain in the outer thigh that may spread to the knee
  • pain on one side of the body
  • aching in the groin

Sciatica

Sciatica is another type of nerve pain that can cause burning pain in the thighs. The pain usually begins in the lower back or hip before spreading down to the thigh.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed — for example, by a herniated disk in the spine. The condition often gets better on its own with rest.

The symptoms of sciatica include:

  • burning or tingling sensations, usually on one side of the body
  • numbness in the hips, thighs, or buttocks
  • pain that changes location
  • electric shock-like or prickly sensations in the hips or thighs

Soft tissue injuries

Injuries to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which commonly occur due to exercise or other physical activities, can cause a wide range of symptoms in the thighs. For example, sprains or strains may result from a fall or overextension of the leg.

Many soft tissue injuries heal on their own, though a person may need to rest the area or perform gentle stretches for some time. Addressing the underlying cause, such as correcting poor posture, may also help in some cases.

Some symptoms of soft tissue injuries include:

  • aching pain in the thighs that may change when massaging the area
  • pain that sometimes changes location
  • swelling following an injury

Pregnancy

Pregnancy puts significant pressure on the body. This pressure can cause aches and pains around the body, including in the thighs and hips.

For example, pelvic girdle pain occurs as a result of the thighs and hips becoming less stable. It usually presents in the third trimester when the developing baby puts more strain on the pelvis. A person may initially notice hip and pelvic pain, but the pain can spread to the thighs.

Some symptoms might include:

  • pain in the hips, thighs, or pelvis
  • clicking or grinding in the hips when moving
  • pain that worsens when changing position

Broken bones

A broken thigh or hip bone can be intensely painful and may prevent a person from walking. Broken bones usually occur suddenly after a fall or injury. They require immediate treatment to reduce the risk of lasting damage.

Some symptoms of a broken bone in the thigh include:

  • sharp, intense pain following a fall or blow to the thigh
  • swelling in the thigh
  • difficulty walking or moving the leg

Joint pain

Pain in the hip joint can spread to the thigh or cause muscle tension in the area.

Many conditions can cause joint pain, the most common of which is osteoarthritis. The condition causes cartilage in the hip joints to wear away, providing less cushioning for the joint bones and causing pain.

The symptoms include:

  • pain that develops gradually and worsens over time
  • more intense pain at certain times of the day, such as the morning
  • joint stiffness
  • improvements in pain after stretching and moving

A doctor will begin the diagnostic process by carrying out a physical examination and checking the person’s medical history. They will also ask about when the pain began, what makes it worse, and whether it changes over time.

The doctor may recommend an X-ray or another imaging test to check the thigh structure and look for signs of damage.

The treatment will depend on what is causing the pain. Some possible treatment options include:

  • stretching
  • hot or cold therapy
  • compression
  • elevation
  • over-the-counter pain relievers
  • setting a broken bone and using a cast
  • physical therapy
  • steroid injections
  • surgery

If the pain is intense or occurs suddenly, it is essential to talk with a doctor before trying any stretches at home. However, persistent or worsening pain might respond well to stretching.

People can stretch the thighs in the following ways:

  1. Sit on the floor with the feet extended straight out and bend one knee over the other, putting the foot flat on the floor next to it. Hold the position for 20–30 seconds.
  2. Sit on the floor with one leg extended out. Bend the other knee out to the side and position the foot under the torso. Lean forward until there is a stretch in the outer thigh of the bent leg and hold for 20–30 seconds
  3. Lying on the back, bend both knees and place the feet flat on the floor. Cross one foot over the opposite leg, resting the ankle on the thigh and pointing the knee out to the side. Place the hands behind the vertical thigh and pull both legs closer to the chest. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds.

Minor aches and pains may go away on their own with home treatment. However, more serious injuries will worsen or cause other problems around the body without proper care.

A person should speak with a doctor about pain that:

  • worsens over time
  • does not respond to home treatments
  • appears suddenly after a fall or injury
  • prevents normal movement

Minor aches and pains are common and can affect many different areas of the body, including the outer thigh.

Outer thigh pain may resolve on its own, and people can often ease the symptoms with home treatment. However, it is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment if the pain continues or worsens.