Read below about upper leg pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your upper leg pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Upper Leg Pain Symptoms

It sounds like you might need to skip the squats at the gym today! It might even be worth taking the elevator instead of the stairs. Those large upper leg muscles provide a lot of area for pain and, when the upper leg hurts, it can really limit mobility.

For most of us, our legs are important components of our everyday lives. Upper leg pain makes it difficult to walk, exercise, and even drive a car. [1]

Upper leg pain symptoms include:

  • Discomfort while standing or walking. [1]
  • Inability to put weight on the leg. [1]
  • Bruising, discoloration, or bleeding. [12]
  • Sudden sharp pain [13]
  • Lingering pain. [2]
  • Dark purple or blue colored veins. [7]

Legs give us the freedom to run, walk, jump, climb, and negotiate the world around us. The upper leg, in particular, is comprised of bones and muscles that are susceptible to injury, particularly when excess strain is placed upon them. The muscles in the upper leg power many of our movements. [14]

Depending on the origin of the discomfort, upper leg pain symptoms can be a chronic nuisance or acute and debilitating. Upper leg pain is often caused by overexertion but can also be an indicator of more significant issues which require medical attention. [14]

Upper Leg Pain Causes Overview

Given its size and the wide range of motions it supports, upper leg pain symptoms are common. Pain in the large bones and muscles of the upper leg can be caused by a wide range of ailments.

Whether treatment is a home remedy or provided by a medical professional, identifying the upper leg pain causes can be useful in determining how to move forward. [1]

Traumatic upper leg pain causes:

  • Strains: During athletic activity or when the upper leg muscles are overstretched during everyday tasks the muscles can be strained. [2]
  • Bruising: Direct impacts to the upper leg can damage the muscles and skin tissue, causing discoloration and pain. [3]
  • Breaks: Significant trauma can fracture or break the femur and prohibit movement. [4]
  • Cramps: Muscles contract when they are fatigued, or the body is dehydrated. [5]

Systemic disease upper leg pain causes:

  • Tumors: Growths in the legs and lower back, cancerous or not, compress nerves and limit mobility resulting in pain. [6]
  • Vascular: Abnormal conditions of the veins and arteries result in a wide range of conditions. The upper leg is often afflicted by varicose veins, for example. [7]

Inflammatory upper leg pain causes:

  • Autoimmune: Diseases that affect nerves, particularly in the lower back can deliver pain to the upper leg. [8] Spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease are examples that can impact the upper leg. [9, 10]
  • Infections: Infections of the bones and tissues of the upper leg can result in swelling, redness, and pain. [11]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Upper Leg Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced upper leg pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Femoral Stress Fracture

    A femoral stress fracture is a small crack in the thigh bone (femur). These fractures are most often a result of overuse and are commonly seen with an increase in activity. Stress fractures of the thigh bone are much less common than those of the shin bone (tibia), but nonetheless do occur in high-risk groups such as athletes and military recruits.

    12 weeks is the usual duration of treatment. Stress fractures usually heal on their own.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dull, achy hip pain, pain in one thigh, thigh pain, spontaneous hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Deep Vein Thrombosis

    Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most deep vein clots occur in the lower leg or thigh.

    Curable with medication or surgery but may recur.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, thigh pain, upper leg swelling, calf pain, butt pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  3. 3.Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome

    Greater trochanteric pain syndrome is a common cause of hip pain caused by damage to the tendons and/or bursa (fluid-filled sac near a joint) at the outside point of the hip known as the greater trochanter.

    Weeks to years

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, pain in the outside of the hip, moderate hip pain, groin pain, limping
    Symptoms that always occur with greater trochanteric pain syndrome:
    pain in the outside of the hip
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

    The kneecap (patella) is located directly in front of the thigh bone (femur), and should normally glide freely up and down. In this condition, called patellofemoral pain syndrome, the kneecap may rub against the thigh bone instead of gliding smoothly, causing damage and pain.

    Most people get better within weeks to months of physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    knee pain, pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when squatting
    Symptoms that always occur with patellofemoral pain syndrome:
    knee pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.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.

    Pain and pins-and-needles feeling resolves with time. Sometimes numbness and altered sensation remains for life.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    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, leaking urine
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Quadriceps

    Repetitive strain injury of the upper leg is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    upper leg numbness, thigh weakness, thigh pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the quadriceps:
    thigh pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the quadriceps:
    upper leg injury, severe upper leg pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Spinal Stenosis

    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.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    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
  8. 8.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Hamstring

    Repetitive strain injury of the upper leg is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    upper leg numbness, thigh weakness, hamstring pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the hamstring:
    hamstring pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the hamstring:
    upper leg injury, severe upper leg pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Mild / Moderate Hip Arthritis

    Arthritis of the hip is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hip. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Hip arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.

    Varies with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    hip pain, difficulty walking, pain in one hip, limping, groin pain
    Symptoms that always occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis:
    hip pain
    Symptoms that never occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis:
    severe hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Iliotibial (It) Band Syndrome ('Runner's Knee')

    Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome is the lateral knee pain that results from overuse that occurs after repetitive motion. It is the most common cause of lateral knee pain in runners and cyclists.

    Within 6 to 8 weeks with conservative nonsurgical treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    knee pain, pain in one knee, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going down stairs, sharp knee pain
    Symptoms that always occur with iliotibial (it) band syndrome ('runner's knee'):
    knee pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Upper Leg Pain Treatments and Relief

Fortunately, upper leg pain symptoms can often receive some level of treatment at home. [1]

Minor upper leg pain is not a cause for concern, but it is important to seek immediate attention if you experience the following upper leg pain symptoms:

  • Deep cuts or exposed bones. [1]
  • Fever and upper leg pain. [1]
  • Inability to walk. [1]
  • Redness and warmth to the touch. [1]
  • Pale skin that is cool to the touch. [1]

Cramps and strains lend themselves well to home remedies, but more significant traumatic events or complex underlying issues will require medical attention from a professional. [1]

At-home upper leg pain treatments:

  • Rest, stretching, and ice: Taking time to let the body heal can sometimes be the best medicine for mild pain. Keeping the leg elevated and taking warm baths will help increase blood flow and loosen the muscles. Pain from varicose veins can also often be relieved with exercise and elevation. [1]
  • Over-the-Counter Medicines: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, are commonly used to help reduce pain and limit inflammation. [1]

Professional upper leg pain treatments:

  • Prescription Medications: Antibiotics could be prescribed by your doctor to treat infection or stronger pain relief medication may be necessary to manage significant pain. [15]
  • Surgery: Deep wounds, bone breaks, and the removal of cancerous tumors will likely require operations to treat. These procedures will help ensure the upper leg heals properly. [15,16]

The upper leg is large for a reason. It plays an important role in many functions of the leg so even mild pain can be more than a nuisance. Taking the time to properly care for a painful upper leg will help expedite healing and limit discomfort, but always contact your doctor when the pain is persistent, or a larger traumatic event has occurred. [17]

FAQs About Upper Leg Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about upper leg pain.

Why do I have upper leg pain while walking?

Pain in the upper leg is common and likely a result of muscular issues. Cramps caused by dehydration, certain medications, or overuse of the muscles could be the culprit. An injury, such as a strain or stress fracture in the bones, may also be causing this pain. [1]

What does a pulled leg muscle feel like?

The term “pulled muscle” typically refers to a muscle strain and happens from overexertion and poor flexibility. A pulled muscle in your leg will likely result in localized pain in the affected muscle. Moving the muscle will be difficult. You may also find that the muscle is swollen and tender to the touch. [5]

Why do my legs ache when I lie down?

If your cardiovascular system is not performing as it should (or has a serious issue) then circulation to the legs might be limited when you lie down, causing pain. Another cause is Restless Legs Syndrome which is a disorder that results in unpleasant feelings in the legs and a persistent urge to move. [1,19]

Can a blood clot cause upper thigh pain?

Yes. Blood clots can form in the thigh, typically deep within the leg. In addition to being painful, clots that form in this area can be particularly dangerous. The clot is called deep-vein thrombosis and, if dislodged, can migrate to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. [18]

What is causing burning pain in the front of my thigh?

This sensation in the front of the thigh is likely due to nerve damage. Several nerve conditions, including meralgia paresthetica, are linked to this symptom and it is important to consult your doctor to determine a diagnosis. Your doctor will likely want to know the extent of the burning and frequency, and whether it occurs in both legs or only one. [13]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Upper Leg Pain

  • Q.Where is your upper leg pain located?
  • Q.Do your symptoms get worse when you exercise?
  • Q.Do you run for exercise or sport?
  • Q.What is your body mass?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our upper leg pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Upper Leg Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced upper leg pain have also experienced:

    • 13% Lower Leg Pain
    • 12% Hip Pain
    • 9% Lower Back Pain
  • People who have experienced upper leg pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced upper leg pain were most often matched with:

    • 46% Deep Vein Thrombosis
    • 30% Femoral Stress Fracture
    • 23% Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Leg Pain. Mayo Clinic. Published January 11, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  2. Sprains and Strains. Mayo Clinic. Published October 4, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link.
  3. Thigh Contusion. Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Link.
  4. Broken Leg. Mayo Clinic. Published June 6, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  5. Muscle Cramp. Mayo Clinic. Published August 8, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link.
  6. Bone Cancer. Mayo Clinic. Published April 25, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  7. Varicose Veins. Mayo Clinic. Published December 28, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link.
  8. Myositis. ColumbiaDoctors. ColumbiaDoctors Link.
  9. Spinal Stenosis. Mayo Clinic. Published March 8, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  10. Gammal ID, Spivak JM, Bendo JA. Systematic Review of Thigh Symptoms After Lateral Transpsoas Interbody Fusion for Adult Patients with Degenerative Lumbar Spine Disease. International Journal of Spine Surgery. 2015;9:62. NCBI Link.
  11. Osteomyelitis. Mayo Clinic. Published September 25, 2015. Mayo Clinic Link.
  12. Thigh Contusion. Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Link.
  13. Burning Thigh Pain (Meralgia Parasthetica). My Doctor Online. My Doctor Online Link.
  14. Knee & Thigh Conditions. BxClinic. Published 2017. BxClinic Link.
  15. Githens MF. Infections After Fracture. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated May 2018. OrthoInfo Link.
  16. Bone Cancer. Mayo Clinic. Published April 25, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.
  17. Attum B, Bhimji SS. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Thigh Muscles. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2018. NCBI Link.
  18. Maltese Jr JT, LaBan MM, Zierenberg A. Severe Cramping Thigh Pain: The Presenting Symptom of Bilateral Iliofemoral Thrombosis. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 2010;89(7):608-609. NCBI Link.
  19. Restless Legs Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. Published July 17, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.