Numbness in One Thigh: 9 Causes
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Are you noticing numbness in your thigh? Numbness in the thigh ranges in severity and causes can be mechanical, metabolic, inflammatory, or iatrogenic. Thigh numbness is often felt on the outer thigh, though it sometimes reaches the knee, and is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as burning or tingling.
Symptoms of numbness and tingling in thigh
Numbness in one thigh can be described as a loss of sensation or tingling in that area. It is reasonable to be concerned if you experience this symptom, especially if associated characteristics described below are persistent or intense. The cause can range in severity and will likely need to be evaluated by a medical provider for a definitive answer.
Common characteristics of numbness in one thigh
For example, symptoms you may also experience that accompany your thigh numbness can include:
- Pins and needles sensation
- Sensitivity to touch
Symptoms that extend beyond the thigh
Sensation in the thigh is primarily controlled by the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. Because of this nerve's specific location, symptoms are often experienced most significantly in the outer (lateral) part of the thigh. Branches of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve also supply the anterior and posterior portion of the thigh; thus, symptoms can be felt in these areas as well, sometimes extending to the knee. See this photo here of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve and its area of innervation.
It is important to follow-up with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. Numbness in the thigh can signal an underlying condition that requires prompt treatment.
What causes numbness in your thigh?
Changes in sensation occur when there is injury or disruption to a sensory nerve. The lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is particularly susceptible to injury or disruption in the form of compression because of its anatomical course in the body. It begins near the abdomen at the psoas muscle, then crosses diagonally over a bone in the pelvis called the anterior superior iliac spine, and then passes under, over or sometimes parallel to a structure called the inguinal ligament in the groin before going to the thigh.
See a visual representation of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve here.
When the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is damaged or compressed, a condition called meralgia paresthetica and its associated symptoms of numbness, tingling and pain results. There are four main categories of injury to the nerve in the case of meralgia paresthetica: mechanical, metabolic, inflammatory and iatrogenic (i.e. relating to a condition caused by medical examination or treatment).
Mechanical causes relate to issues that increase pressure on the groin or path of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
- Entrapment: Due to its course, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is susceptible to entrapment between the pelvic bone and the inguinal ligament, especially if it runs underneath. Seemingly mild activities such as cycling or walking, especially for long periods, can result in compression of the nerve between these two points. Traumatic injuries to the pelvis can also result in similar compression as well as damage to the nerve.
- Environmental: External factors such as tight clothing can result in meralgia paresthetica. Any outerwear such as belts, tight pants, and even corsets can cause enough pressure on the nerve and result in meralgia paresthetica.
- Weight: Pregnancy or weight gain localized to the abdominal region can also cause increased pressure on the groin or path of the lateral cutaneous nerve.
- Tumors: Very rarely, cancerous and noncancerous growths in the body can directly compress nerves in the upper thigh, including the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
There are many systemic, metabolic conditions that can result in damage to the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. These conditions affect the way that the nerve sends and receives signals from the brain and spinal cord and disrupts proper sensory function, resulting in a condition known as neuropathy.
- Systemic: Dysfunction in the systemic processes that your body uses day-to-day, for example, glucose and insulin dysregulation in diabetes, can damage the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve causing numbness in the thigh and other parts of the body.
- Toxins: Toxins that cause injury to the nerves include heavy metals such as lead and substances such as alcohol. Too much exposure to either can cause nerve damage that leads to numbness.
Inflammatory causes of numbness in one thigh may be related to:
- Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the nerves and cause injury that results in numbness. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and lupus are examples of such autoimmune diseases.
- Infections: Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease and multiple viral infections such as shingles can cause inflammation and nerve injury that results in thigh numbness.
An iatrogenic cause refers to any condition that results from medical examination or treatment. Due to its superficial course, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve can often be injured or compressed in surgeries involving the pelvic area or lower abdomen.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
The two piriformis muscles, left and right, each run from the base of the pelvis to the top of the thighbone. The two sciatic nerves, left and right, are each attached to the spine and run down between the pelvic bone and the piriformis muscle to the back of each leg.
If the piriformis muscle is damaged through sudden trauma, or through overuse as in sports, the resulting inflammation or spasm of the muscle can trap the sciatic nerve between the pelvic bone and the muscle.
Piriformis syndrome is most often found in women over 30.
Symptoms include pain over one or both sides of the low back, and shooting pain (sciatica) down one or both legs.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes imaging such as CT scan or MRI.
Treatment involves rest; over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; physical therapy; therapeutic injections; and, rarely, surgery.
The best prevention is a good regimen of stretching before exercise, to help prevent damage to the piriformis.
Top Symptoms: pelvis pain, butt pain, pain when passing stools, leg numbness, hip pain
Symptoms that never occur with piriformis syndrome: involuntary defecation, leaking urine
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Herniated (slipped) disk in the lower back
The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.
Top Symptoms: lower back pain, moderate back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that gets worse when sitting, leg weakness
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Groin nerve irritation
There are several nerves supplying the groin, inner thigh and genital region. Entrapment or irritation of one of these nerves can result in pain or numbness in this area. This is often caused by surgery in this area but can happen without a specific cause as well.
Top Symptoms: thigh numbness, groin numbness, testicle numbness, sharp testicle or scrotum pain, sharp groin pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Thigh nerve issue (meralgia paresthetica)
Meralgia paresthetica is a nerve condition that causes an area of skin over the upper outer thigh to feel numb, tingly, or painful. This is caused by compression of a nerve known as the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh as it passes underneath a tough fibrous ligament known as the inguinal ligament.
Top Symptoms: pain in the outside of the hip, pain in one thigh, thigh numbness, tingling upper leg, hip numbness
Symptoms that never occur with thigh nerve issue (meralgia paresthetica): new headache, swollen hip, swollen hips, swelling of one hip, leg swelling, weakness of both legs, leg weakness
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Sciatica is a general term describing any shooting pain that begins at the spine and travels down the leg.
The most common cause is a herniated or "slipped" disc in the lower spine. This means some of the cushioning material inside the disc has been forced outward, pressing on a nerve root. Bony irregularities..
Acute compartment syndrome describes the damage done to certain muscle groups of the arms or legs after a traumatic injury.
All of the long muscles are bundled into sections – "compartments" – by the white sheets of strong, tough connective tissue called fascia. If something interferes with circulation so that blood flow is trapped within the compartment, pressure rises because the fascia cannot stretch. This causes serious damage to the muscles and other tissues within the compartment.
Acute compartment syndrome is caused by a broken bone; a crush injury; burns, due to scarred and tightened skin; and bandages or casts applied before an injury has stopped swelling.
Symptoms can rapidly intensify. They include severe pain and tightness in the muscle; tingling or burning sensation; and sometimes numbness and weakness.
Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency which can result in loss of the limb. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination.
Treatment involves hospitalization for emergency surgery and, in some cases, skin graft.
Top Symptoms: arm numbness, hand numbness, foot numbness, pain in one leg, thigh numbness
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Copper is a natural element necessary to many of the body's daily processes. Although found in the body in small amounts, copper is crucial to the proper functioning of the nervous, musculoskeletal, and immune systems, as well as the creation of red blood cells. A deficiency, or an in..
The spine, or backbone, protects the spinal cord and allows people to stand and bend. Spinal stenosis causes narrowing in the spine. The narrowing puts pressure on nerves and the spinal cord and can cause pain.
Top Symptoms: lower back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that shoots to the butt, difficulty walking, thigh pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
At-home and professional treatments for a numb thigh
Numbness in one thigh can be alleviated or prevented with a few at-home measures. If you cannot find relief, you should consult your physician. They can make further recommendations for medical treatment.
At-home treatments and preventative measures for numbness in one thigh
You can prevent more temporary symptoms with the following lifestyle changes:
- Restrictions or movements: Avoid repetitive motions or cramped positions that put unnecessary pressure on your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
- Exposures: Avoid toxic exposures such as alcohol and check your home and work environment for substances such as lead.
- Clothing: Avoid tight clothing and opt for looser, more relaxed clothing especially around the pelvic region.
When to see a doctor for numbness in one thigh
However, if you experience frequent, persistent episodes of numbness, visit your physician to find to get appropriate treatment. Depending on the cause, your physician may suggest the following treatments:
- Anticonvulsants: Some anticonvulsant medications (used for seizures) can also be used to combat nerve pain and include medications such as gabapentin.
- Corticosteroid injections: Injections can reduce inflammation and help relieve pain; however they include certain side effects such as joint infection and nerve damage that you need to discuss with your healthcare provider before beginning.
- Surgery: If other treatments are ineffective and your symptoms continue to progress or worsen, your physician may recommend looking into surgical options to combat your symptoms.
FAQs about numbness in one thigh
Will the numbness in the thigh affect my gait or walking?
The numbness in your thigh should not affect your gait or walking because the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is a pure sensory nerve that only provides innervation related to sensation and feeling. It does not affect your ability to use the muscles in your leg. If you are experiencing problems with your gait, make an appointment with your healthcare provider promptly; this could signal a different underlying condition.
Why am I only feeling numbness in one thigh?
You are only feeling numbness in one thigh because the nerve in that thigh has been affected, whereas the nerve in the other thigh has not.
Is numbness in one thigh life-threatening?
Usually, numbness in one thigh is not life-threatening, especially if it is related to damage or compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. There are life- and/or limb-threatening conditions such as compartment syndrome a situation in which increased pressure within a confined space can lead to inadequate blood supply to an organ that can also present as numbness. Usually, these conditions are associated with severe trauma and symptoms such as paralysis, lack of pulse and changes in the color of the extremity.
Will the numbness spread from my thigh to other parts of my lower body?
If your symptoms are only due to compression or injury to the lateral cutaneous femoral nerve, your symptoms should remain localized to the thigh and spread to as low as the knee. If you have neuropathy in other nerves caused by other conditions, you may also experience numbness in the hands, feet or toes as well.
How long will the numbness last?
Decompression of the nerve usually results in very fast relief. Decompression can be attained by simply wearing more loose-fitting clothing and does not necessarily require surgery.
Questions your doctor may ask about numbness in one thigh
- Lie down. Have someone hold onto your foot on the affected side and try to rotate the foot inward. Does this cause pain?
- Do your symptoms improve with activity (moving around and such)?
- Do your symptoms worsen when sitting?
- What is your body mass?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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