Meralgia Paresthetica: Causes, Treatment, Exercise, Prevention

Meralgia paresthetica is a condition characterized by tingling, numbness and burning pain in your outer thigh.

The cause of meralgia paresthetica is compression of the nerve that supplies sensation to the skin surface of your thigh.

Symptoms of Meralgia paresthetica

Usually, you’ll notice the warning signs of meralgia paresthetica only on one side of your body. You might feel:

  • Pain, tingling, numbness, or burning in the outside of your thigh
  • Sensitivity to light touch rather than to firm pressure
  • High sensitivity to heat

Your symptoms may be mild at first, but as the condition gets worse, you might feel sharper, shooting pain.

It may go away and come back for no clear reason.

Causes

Meralgia paresthetica image

Meralgia paresthetica results from the compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (LFCN).

The LFCN is a large sensory nerve.

It travels from your spinal cord through your pelvic region and down the outside of your thigh.

Meralgia paresthetica symptoms occur when the LFCN is compressed (squeezed).

Common causes of this compression include any condition that increases pressure on the groin, including:

  • Tight clothing, such as belts, corsets and tight pants
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Wearing a heavy tool belt
  • Pregnancy
  • Scar tissue near the inguinal ligament due to injury or past surgery

Nerve injury, which can be due to diabetes or seat belt injury after a motor vehicle accident, for example, also can cause meralgia paresthetica.

Diagnosis of Meralgia paresthetica

In most cases diagnosis is made by history and physical examination.

If you trace the area of pain or burning over the outer leg and have one of the mechanism of compression listed above then there is a good shot that you’re lateral femoral cutaneous nerve the culprit.

On more difficult cases there are several special tests that can be performed to obtain a diagnosis.

These are generally performed when looking for causes of pain other than mechanical such as a tumor.

Nerve Conduction Velocity Test– Electrical pads measure the impulses generated by the nerves to detect damage.

Nerve blocks– Injection of anesthetic around the nerve to dull the pain. If your groin or outside leg pain has disappeared then you have a diagnosis. This isn’t a treatment, but a test to determine if it’s indeed the nerve causing the problem.

X-rays– This isn’t used to diagnose, but rather to exclude pathology such as tumors.

Skin tenderness– skin rolling and movement of the cutaneous nerve by pulling on the skin will be more tender on the painful side. Skin rolling is also a powerful and easy way to treat this unhappy skin nerves.

Functional Testing Performing dynamic movement test such as a gait analysis, squat bio-mechanics and lunging mechanics can recreate pain and also give the cause.

Treatment of Meralgia paresthetica

The goal of treatment is to ease the pressure on your nerve.

The type of therapy you get depends on the cause of your condition.

For mild cases, your doctor may recommend:

  • Heat, ice, or taking over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen for a few days
  • Weight loss
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing, especially around your upper front hip
  • Physical therapy for a hip injury or to strengthen your leg muscles or abs

If your condition is more severe, you may need:

  • A corticosteroid shot to reduce swelling.
  • Surgery to ease pressure on the nerve. Doctors usually recommend an operation only when no other treatment helps.

It can take some time for your pain to go away.

Some people will still feel numbness even after treatment.

In most cases, though, you should be able to recover within 4 to 6 weeks.

Risk Factors

The following might increase your risk of meralgia paresthetica:

  • Extra weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the pressure on your lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.
  • Pregnancy: A growing belly puts added pressure on your groin, through which the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve passes.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes-related nerve injury can lead to meralgia paresthetica.
  • Age: People between the ages of 30 and 60 are at a higher risk.

Exercise good for Meralgia Paresthetica:

Exercises that reduce lower back muscle tension and improve flexibility and strength may help with pain due to MP.

1. Bridges

Bridges for meralgia paresthetica

This exercise helps stretch the hip flexors and strengthens the muscles of the core, legs, and butt to improve function and reduce pain.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: spinal stabilizers, lumbar extensors, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings

  1. Start by lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Slowly raise the hips off the ground until the body is in a straight line, pushing the heels into the floor and squeezing the glutes at the top.
  3. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat.
  4. Repeat 10 to 15 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets.

2. Lunges

Lunges for meralgia paresthetica

Lunges work to build strength in the legs and help improve balance and stability. They can also help stretch tight hip muscles, which may lessen pain.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: thigh muscles, including quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as glutes and core muscles

  1. Stand up tall with hands by your side.
  2. Take a large step forward and slowly bend your knees and lower down until your back knee touches the floor. Be sure to take a big enough step so your front knee doesn’t go past your toes.
  3. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.
  4. Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each side and complete 3 sets.

3. Cat Cow

Cat cow for meralgia paresthetica

This exercise helps with mobility throughout the spine and encourages movement of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve through the groin area.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: spine stabilizers, lumbar extensors, abdominals

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly below your hips at 90 degrees.
  2. Begin by slowly arching your back, letting your belly sag, and lifting your chest and eyes up to look up at the ceiling.
  3. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Slowly return to starting position. Tuck your pelvis and arch your back in the other direction while you let your head drop down and relax.
  5. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

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