Thigh Pain: 8 Common Causes (& What to Do)

Thigh pain is typically muscular in nature and commonly caused by excessive physical activity without adequate rest. Thigh pain can also be caused by a muscular injury or by direct trauma to the area. 

Thigh pain can be felt at the front, back or sides of the leg, and may be a sign of physical fatigue, muscular contracture or sciatic nerve inflammation.

Usually, thigh pain resolves without any specific treatment and goes away with rest. However, if you also notice a bruise in the area, or if the thigh becomes very firm when palpated, you should see your doctor for assessment. The doctor may recommend physiotherapy, stretching exercises and/or medications to manage pain and swelling. 

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The most frequent causes of thigh pain are: 

1. Intense exercise

Intense exercise is one of the main causes of thigh pain. It usually appears two days after working out, and can be felt at the front back or sides of the leg. 

Thigh pain from exercise is commonly noticed when switching to a new workout plan or performing a new physical activity, as these changes can stimulate the muscle in a different way. This type of pain can also be felt when restarting exercise after a long pause. 

Exercise that causes thigh pain includes strength training with weights, cycling and other aerobic activities. 

What to do: In these cases, you are advised to rest your legs the day after working out, and to avoid exercises that work the thigh muscles until it has recovered. To relieve pain quickly and to prevent it in the future, be sure to stretch the legs after working out, ideally as directed by a personal trainer. 

Although you may feel pain from exercising, you should continue to workout and stay active, as this will reduce the risk of pain from workouts in the future. 

2. Intense walks 

Walking for prolonged periods of times can lead to fatigued muscles, causing thigh pain and calf pain

What to do: In this case, you can relieve thigh pain by massaging the muscles, taking a relaxing bath, and drinking teas that promote muscle relaxation (like chamomile tea). Very intense pain can be treated with anti-inflammatories and/or analgesics as prescribed by a doctor. 

3. Muscular injury 

Muscle distension, sprains or contractures are muscular injuries that can cause thigh pain. These injuries are usually a result of intense exercise, brisk movements, muscular fatigue, using gym equipment incorrectly or overloading weight. 

These situations can cause incorrect contraction of the muscle or even tears in the muscle fibers, which can lead to pain, difficult moving the thigh, weakness and decreased range of motion. 

What to do: If you are unsure about the type of injury causing your thigh pain, you should rest rest and apply ice to the affected area until you are able to see a doctor. The doctor may recommend anti-inflammatories to relieve your thigh pain until the injury heals. 

The doctor may also prescribe physiotherapy to help relax the muscle and to relieve pain quickly and more efficiently. 

4. Direct trauma

Direct trauma to the thigh can occur with contact sports or with a fall or accident. These situations can cause thigh pain, as well as bruising and swelling in the area. 

What ti di: If thigh pain emerges following a direct blow, you should apply ice for about 20 minutes to the area, twice per day. Depending on the intensity of the trauma, you should rest the leg and take anti-inflammatories as directed by your doctor to relieve pain and discomfort.

5. Meralgia paresthetica

Meralgia paresthetica is a condition characterized by compression of a nerve that runs along the outer side of the leg. It causes pain, burning and numbness in the area, which can worsen with prolonged standing or walking. 

Meralgia paresthetica is more frequently noted in men, although it can happen in anyone who uses excessively tight clothes, pregnant women, or anyone who undergoes trauma and nerve compression to the outer side of the thigh. 

What to do: Treatment for this condition is usually aimed at relieving symptoms with analgesics or anti-inflammatories, as directed by a doctor. The doctor may also recommend massage therapy or physiotherapy. 

6. Sciatica

Sciatica commonly presents with thigh pain that is felt at the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve starts at the bottom of the spine and branches down into the glutes, legs, and all the way to the feet. Inflammation of the sciatic nerve can be very uncomfortable, and cause thigh pain, tingling, weakness and difficulty walking. 

What to do: You should see a doctor for assessment so that the most adequate treatment is initiated. The doctor may prescribe medications that relieve pain and inflammation (which can be taken orally or applied topically) as well as physiotherapy. Check out these sciatica stretches that you can perform at home to help manage mild pain. 

7. Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease is a condition in which the arteries in the arms and legs become more narrow. When the upper leg arteries become compromised, this condition can lead to numbness and painful cramping in the thighs, particularly after any physical activity. Some patients may even notice changes to skin color and the formation of wounds.

What to do: Treatment for peripheral artery disease involves certain lifestyle changes to promote circulation to the legs. Patients are encouraged to quit smoking, to adopt a healthy and balanced diet, and to exercise regularly. Depending on the underlying cause of this disease, the doctor may prescribe medications to relieve pain, to prevent clot formation or to treat the underlying cause. 

8. Piriformis syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is a rare condition in which the piriformis muscle, located in the glutes, becomes swollen and inflamed. In some cases, this swelling may irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs alongside the muscle, causing thigh pain and discomfort. 

What to do: You shouid see s a doctor for assessment if you suspect you may have this condition. It is not possible to surfically move the sciatic nerve away from this muscle, therefore treatment is aimed at relieving pain through medications and physiotherapy.