When you think about your body and all of the biological mechanisms required to make sure it functions correctly, it’s no wonder we notice so many tiny aches and pains as we get older. That’s our body’s way of telling us to slow down and find out what’s wrong. As a physician, I see people who will ignore body aches and pain until whatever is hurting them is almost unbearable. This is often the case with a condition called meralgia paresthetica – a fairly common condition that causes burning or painful sensations in your outer thigh. Sound like something you’ve been experiencing? Let’s talk about what it is and what might be causing it.
It Starts with a Compressed Nerve
Also called Bernhardt-Roth syndrome, meralgia paresthetica is a condition that occurs when one of the nerves in your leg is being compressed. This nerve in particular, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, is responsible for the sensations you feel through your skin on the front of your thigh. When this nerve is compressed, it can cause numbness, tingling and burning pain in your outer thigh. Typically, this pain is unilateral, meaning that it will only occur in one leg.
Meralgia paresthetica can be caused by obesity and pregnancy. Complications from diabetes or trauma, such as in a car accident, can also cause compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. One of the top culprits for causing the condition seems to be wearing tight clothes, especially shapewear. These garments are specifically designed to compress your body into a smaller shape, which can put pressure on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
Getting a Diagnosis
Here’s the good news. You likely won’t have to go through an invasive examination for your doctor to determine if you have meralgia paresthetica. The majority of cases can be diagnosed by your physician reviewing your medical history and carrying out a brief exam. They will likely touch your affected leg and ask you about the numbness or pain you are experiencing. If there’s a chance you could be suffering from something else based on your history and symptoms, your physician may order some extra tests, like an X-ray or nerve conduction study, to rule out other conditions.
I Have It. What’s the Next Step?
I have even better news. Treatment for this condition is typically conservative and focuses on relieving pressure on the nerve. This means that if you wear tight clothes, your doctor will likely tell you to stop. If you’re overweight, the treatment will likely be to go on a diet and exercise regimen to lose weight. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be an option too, depending on what your doctor recommends. Typically, these treatment plans tend to work within a few months for most people. If these conservative methods don’t work after a few months, your physician may recommend a prescription or corticosteroid injection. Surgery to relieve the compressed nerve is an option, but rare, that’s used only as a last resort in serious cases.