Upper Leg Bump: Symptoms & Causes
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Most bumps on the upper leg are benign and caused by underlying skin conditions like cysts, boils, abscess, or folliculitis. Other causes of bump on upper thigh include dermatofibroma, or lipoma. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.
Upper leg bump symptoms
Bumps on the upper leg can vary in size from small to large, and vary in quantity as well. You may experience a single bump or multiple bumps on your upper leg.
Common characteristics of an upper leg bump
In addition, your bump may be associated with symptoms such as:
Bumps on the upper leg can also be difficult because they may be easily irritated by clothing or different positions. Although an upper leg bump is usually not life-threatening, it is important to follow-up with a healthcare professional in order to get appropriate treatment.
Causes of an upper leg bump
Many of the causes of upper leg bumps have a dermatologic component and affect aspects of the skin and hair follicles. The skin is the largest organ of the body and has three layers known as:
- Epidermis: This is the outermost layer of the skin visible to the eye. It contains specialized cells responsible for pigmentation of the skin (melanocytes), protecting the skin (Langerhans cells) and allowing the skin to feel pressure (Merkel cells).
- Dermis: This is the middle layer of the skin. It contains a network of tough but elastic collagen fibers that make the skin strong but also stretchy and a network of nerves and blood vessels that allow passage of nutrients and oxygen. The dermis also contains sweat glands.
- Subcutaneous layer: This is the deepest layer of skin which contains fat and connective tissue. It acts as a shock absorber and insulator and produces hormones like vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
See this image here for a visual representation of the layers of the skin.
Many of the causes of upper leg bumps affect these skin layers and can be categorized into the following groups:
In addition to lesions forming in the different layers of the skin, the hair follicles are also a nidus, or site of origin, for the development of bumps in the upper legs and other parts of the body.
- Inherited: There can be inherited conditions that cause abnormal formation of the follicles resulting in multiple, small lesions that can look like a rash. This is a condition known as keratosis pilaris.
- Acquired: There can also be acquired conditions or situations that cause irritation or occlusion to the follicles, causing them to become inflamed and form painful bumps on the skin.
Inflammatory causes of upper leg bumps include the following.
- Infectious: The skin is colonized by a bacterium known as Staphylococcus aureus. Although it is a normal component of the skin, it is the leading cause of human bacterial infection and can result in bumps and lumps throughout the body, including the upper leg. Staphylococcus aureus can enter the skin via small lesions or cuts and result in painful abscesses filled with pus.
- Cysts: Cysts are sacs that can be filled with fluid, air or other material. They can form in any part of the body. Cysts that form in the epidermis of the skin often present as skin-colored nodules see an image here.
In general, any growth is the result of cells dividing and growing uncontrollably. Cells in any part of the body fat, blood vessels, soft tissue, etc. can grow in this abnormal fashion. These abnormal cells can accumulate to form a noticeable lump or bump in the body part affected. These growths (also known as tumors or neoplasms) can be benign (non-threatening) or malignant (life-threatening).
- Vascular: Growths that result from the vasculature and blood vessels of the body are called angiomas or pyogenic granulomas. They are often red and dome-shaped and can bleed copiously with trauma.
- Fat/soft tissue: Growths of the fat and soft tissue of the skin are known as lipomas and often present as soft, round or oval painless nodules. They most commonly occur on the back and upper extremities but can appear in other locations including the upper leg.
Trauma to the upper leg area from minor events such as bumping into a table or falling, to serious events such as a motor vehicle accident, can result in bumps on the upper leg. These bumps can be the result of bruising or signal a more serious underlying condition such as a fracture.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Lipoma is a word that translates as "fatty tumor," but a lipoma is not cancer. It is simply a growth of fat between the muscle layer and the skin above it.
The exact cause is not known. The condition does run in families and is associated with other unusual syndromes such as adiposis dolorosa, which is similar. Lipomas most often appear after age 40.
Symptoms include a soft, easily moveable lump beneath the skin, about two inches across. A lipoma is painless unless its growth is irritating the nerves around it. They are most often found on the back, neck, and abdomen, and sometimes the arms and upper legs.
It is a good idea to have any new or unusual growth checked by a medical provider, just to make certain it is benign.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, biopsy, and imaging such as ultrasound or CT scan.
Most of the time, treatment is not necessary unless the lipoma is unsightly or is interfering with other structures. It can be removed through surgery or liposuction.
Top Symptoms: skin-colored groin bump, marble sized groin lump, small groin lump
Symptoms that always occur with lipoma: skin-colored groin bump
Urgency: Wait and watch
A cyst is a small sac or lump, filled with fluid, air, fat, or other material, that begins to grow somewhere in the body for no apparent reason. A skin cyst is one that forms just beneath the skin.
It's believed that skin cysts form around trapped keratin cells – the cells that form the relatively tough outer layer of the skin.
These cysts are not contagious.
Anyone can get a skin cyst, but they are most common in those who are over age 18, have acne, or have injured the skin.
Symptoms include the appearance of a small, rounded lump under the skin. Cysts are normally painless unless infected, when they will be reddened and sore and contain pus.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination. A small cyst can be left alone, though if it is unsightly or large enough to interfere with movement it can be removed in a simple procedure done in a doctor's office. An infected cyst must be treated so that the infection does not spread.
Top Symptoms: skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump
Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst: skin-colored armpit bump
Urgency: Wait and watch
A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.
Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.
If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination.
A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.
Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.
Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash
Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A dermatofibroma is a common skin growth that usually appears on the lower legs, but may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are benign (noncancerous). Dermatofibromas are most common in adults and are rarely found in children.
Symptoms include a hard, raised growth that is red, pink, .
A furuncle, also called a boil, is infection of a hair follicle. The infection forms under the skin at the root of the hair and may occur anywhere on the body.
The infection is caused by bacteria, most often Staphylococcus aureus or "staph." Irritation caused by clothes or anything else rubbing the skin can cause the skin to break down and allow bacteria to enter.
Staph bacteria are found everywhere. Frequent and thorough handwashing, and otherwise maintaining cleanliness, will help to prevent its spread.
Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system; diabetes; and other skin infections.
Symptoms include a single bump under the skin that is swollen, painful, and red, and contains pus.
It is important to treat the boil, since infection can spread into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes fluid sample from the boil.
Treatment may involve incision and drainage of the infection, followed by creams to apply to the site of the boil and/or a course of antibiotic medicine.
Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump, constant skin changes
Symptoms that always occur with boil (furuncle): pink or red facial bump
Symptoms that never occur with boil (furuncle): fever
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing form of skin cancer. Skin cancer falls into two major groups: Non-melanoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Top Symptoms: facial skin changes, pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painless facial bump, growing facial lump
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Folliculitis is a common skin problem where hair follicles are infected by bacteria or fungi.
Top Symptoms: small facial lump, pink or red facial bump, face itch, facial bump leaking yellow/milky fluid, yellow or white facial bump
Symptoms that always occur with folliculitis: small facial lump
Pimples are also called comedones, spots, blemishes, or "zits." Medically, they are small skin eruptions filled with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.
Pimples often first start appearing at puberty, when hormones increase the production of oil in the skin and sometimes clog the pores.
Most susceptible are teenagers from about ages 13 to 17.
Symptoms include blocked pores that may appear flat and black on the surface, because the oil darkens when exposed to the air; blocked pores that appear white on the surface because they have closed over with dead skin cells; or swollen, yellow-white, pus-filled blisters surrounded by reddened skin.
Outbreaks of pimples on the skin can interfere with quality of life, making the person self-conscious about their appearance and causing pain and discomfort in the skin. A medical provider can help to manage the condition, sometimes through referral to a dermatologist.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination.
Treatment involves improving diet; keeping the skin, hair, washcloths, and towels very clean; and using over-the-counter acne remedies.
Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump
Symptoms that always occur with pimple: pink or red facial bump
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or "ugly looking."
Top Symptoms: brown-colored skin changes, atypical features of a facial bump, black-colored skin changes, growing facial lump, large facial lump
Symptoms that always occur with melanoma: atypical features of a facial bump
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Solar (actinic) keratosis
Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is the most common skin condition caused by sun damage over many years. It appears as small, rough, raised growths that may be hard and warty.
Top Symptoms: unchanged face redness, rough skin on the face, thickened skin with a well-defined border
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Upper leg bump treatments and relief
When to see a doctor for an upper leg bump
The causes of upper leg bumps are varied and treatment is dependent on the specific cause. Many of the treatments are surgical in nature and involve physical removal of the bump. Treatments for bumps are usually only performed if they are causing medical or physical symptoms or are causing you distress; however, removal simply for cosmetic reasons is acceptable as well. Surgical options include:
- Cryosurgery: The application of extreme cold to destroy and remove diseased tissue.
- Electrodesiccation: The use of an electric current to remove skin lesions.
- Shave excision: The use of a sharp razor with or without an electrode to feather the edges of a lesion to make it smaller or less noticeable.
- Scissors: At times the solution is to simply cut off the lesion/bump with surgical scissors.
If the upper leg bump is associated with an infection, your physician will prescribe appropriate antibiotics to treat the condition and prevent complications. If your upper leg bump and associated symptoms are due to malignant cancer, your physician will discuss treatment options including surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
At-home treatments for an upper leg bump
In the meantime, supportive measures such as resting and leg elevation combined with icing and warm, compression bandages may also help alleviate swelling and discomfort. If your upper leg bump lessens or goes away with these supportive measures, your condition is most likely not life-threatening.
FAQs about upper leg bump
How do you treat keratosis pilaris?
Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that looks like small, tiny red bumps on the front of the thighs. This condition is a result of poor development (keratinization) of the follicles in the skin; the goals of treatment are to alleviate symptoms such as dryness and itching rather than clearing the bumps away altogether. Your physician will suggest simple remedies such as a moisturizer to help with dryness or exfoliation to remove dead skin cells.
Will the bump in my upper leg go away on its own?
Depending on the cause, there is a possibility that the bump and the accompanying pain will go away on its own. If the upper leg bump is a cyst or caused by trauma, the likelihood that it will go away on its own is high. However, if the upper leg bump is a benign or malignant tumor, it will not resolve on its own and will require follow-up.
Will the bump spread from one leg to the other?
If the bump is red or multiple appear on one leg, this is most likely an inflammatory etiology.Some inflammatory conditions, such as erythema nodosum, can result in multiple bumps on the upper leg and other parts of the lower extremity that can be red and fairly tender. Erythema nodosum is a type of panniculitis, a group of inflammatory diseases that affect the fatty tissue under the skin and result in skin nodules. These bumps may spread and affect the other leg in the first few weeks; however, they can be easily treated and often resolve on their own.
Is the bump chronic or temporary?
A bump on the upper leg may be temporary or chronic depending on the cause. A chronic upper leg bump is more associated with benign or malignant growths whereas temporary lumps are more associated with traumatic or inflammatory causes .
How will the upper leg bump affect my daily activities?
An upper leg bump can be very painful and uncomfortable. After a traumatic event, bed rest and limited activity on the affected leg can help with recovery, but after full recovery, your leg function should not be significantly affected. An upper leg bump associated with a benign or malignant growth may cause fatigue or unexplained weight loss, which may affect your energy to complete tasks. See your physician promptly if you feel like your symptoms are significantly affecting your life.
Questions your doctor may ask about upper leg bump
- What color is the bump?
- Do you have a rash?
- Do you feel pain when you touch the bump?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
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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- Goldstein BG, Goldstein AO. Overview of benign lesions of the skin. UpToDate. Updated July 26, 2017. UpToDate Link
- Shetty S, Gokul S. Keratinization and its disorders. Oman Med J. 2012;27(5):348-57. NCBI Link
- Keratosis pilaris. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link