Overview

Meralgia paresthetica is a condition characterized by tingling, numbness and burning pain in your outer thigh. The cause of meralgia paresthetica is compression of the nerve that supplies sensation to the skin surface of your thigh.

Tight clothing, obesity or weight gain, and pregnancy are common causes of meralgia paresthetica. However, meralgia paresthetica can also be due to local trauma or a disease, such as diabetes.

In most cases, you can relieve meralgia paresthetica with conservative measures, such as wearing looser clothing. In severe cases, treatment may include medications to relieve discomfort or, rarely, surgery.

Symptoms

Pressure on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which supplies sensation to your upper thigh, might cause these symptoms of meralgia paresthetica:

  • Tingling and numbness in the outer (lateral) part of your thigh
  • Burning pain on the surface of the outer part of your thigh

These symptoms commonly occur on one side of your body and might intensify after walking or standing.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you have symptoms of meralgia paresthetica.

Causes

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
  • Pregnancy
  • 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 cause meralgia paresthetica.

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.
Feb. 23, 2017
References
  1. Anderson BC. Meralgia paresthetica (lateral femoral cutaneous nerve entrapment). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 24, 2016.
  2. Burning thigh pain (meralgia paresthetica). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00340. Accessed Oct. 24, 2016.
  3. NINDS meralgia paresthetica information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/meralgia_paresthetica/meralgia_paresthetica.htm. Accessed Oct. 24, 2016.
  4. Patjin J, et al. Meralgia paresthetica. Pain Practice. 2011;11:1533.