Numbness in the Thigh
The numbness in the thigh above knee is called meralgia paresthetica. Meralgia means pain and paresthete means disease.
Paresthesias are symptoms caused by diseases or injuries. There are many types of disorders that cause these symptoms such as: muscle spasms, headaches, joint pains, backaches etc.
Meralgia paresthetica is a condition where the skin around the lower legs becomes cold. The sensation is similar to frostbite.
Sometimes it affects both feet at once. It causes extreme discomfort and sometimes even death if not treated quickly.
It usually occurs when there is a break in the skin between your toes or your foot and shin bones (femur). It may occur anywhere along the length of your lower legs from your ankle bone all the way up to your knees.
There are several possible causes of meralgia paresthetica. Some include:
A fracture in which part of the skin is broken off causing a hole in the skin and allowing heat to escape. A tear in which part of the skin is torn away causing a hole in the skin and allowing heat to escape.
Dry skin e.g. if you have been wearing tight socks or tights and they are very dry. A full thickness wound e.g. a very clean cut that went through the skin, subcutaneous tissue and into the muscle itself. Diabetes mellitus e.g having uncontrolled blood sugar due to a lack of insulin or a resistance to its effects.
There are also several factors that may increase your risk of meralgia paresthetica including:
having very high levels of fat in your body. Osteoarthritis e.g. a long-term inflammatory condition causing pain and gradual loss of movement in the joints. Muscle atrophy e.g. a wasting of muscles throughout the body due to inactivity. Neurological disorders e.g. problems with the nerves in your body. Poor blood circulation e.g. problems with the flow of blood throughout the body.
To treat meralgia paresthetica, you can change your position or apply a cold pack or heat pack to your skin to relieve symptoms. An antacid may also help to relieve symptoms.
If your symptoms are severe, you may need to wear compression socks or use other devices to keep your legs elevated.
If the discoloration is not bad and the pain is tolerable, it is best to avoid treatment unless there is an underlying medical condition as it will clear up within a few weeks. If the skin becomes infected a course of antibiotics may be necessary.
Weight loss can help if obesity is a factor. Osteoporosis can be controlled with a course of medication.
Elevating your legs and keeping them raised above the level of your heart can help. Effective painkillers may also be used to help relieve pain.
If you are experiencing meralgia paresthetica on a regular basis, you should consult your physician as soon as possible if you do not know the cause of the numbness or tingling. Your physician may perform tests to determine if there is an underlying cause of the numbness.
If there is no underlying medical condition causing the numbness, your physician may recommend that you change your position or apply cold or heat compresses to relieve the numbness.
There are several things you can do to help prevent meralgia paresthetica from occurring:
Do not wear tight clothing such as socks or tights for long periods of time.
Do not sit or stand in the same position for long periods of time.
Lose weight if you are overweight.
If you have osteoporosis, be sure to take medications as directed.
If you have diabetes, work with your physician to keep your blood sugar in control.
Avoid sitting or standing with your legs crossed for long periods of time.
When sitting, be sure to move your legs around regularly to avoid blood clots forming.
When standing, be sure to move your legs around regularly to improve blood flow and muscle tone.
Take frequent rest breaks at work or while on long car journeys and get up and walk around at least every 30 minutes.
Wear compression stockings to improve the circulation in your legs.
Wear elastic support hose.
Use a lumbar support when sitting for long periods of time.
Treatments for specific causes of meralgia paresthetica should be implemented. For example, if the numbness is due to a trapped nerve, physical therapy can be used to free the nerve of any extra tissue contact.
If you are overweight and this might be causing the numbness, losing weight can help.
Exercises to prevent meralgia paresthetica from returning:
Sit in a chair with good back support. Rest your left foot on top of your right thigh.
Gently move and massage the bottom of your foot for 15 to 30 seconds. Gently move and massage your ankle and your calf for 15 to 30 seconds. Now, move and massage the top, inside, and outside of your right foot for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat this process with your right foot for 15 to 30 seconds. Start with your left ankle and gently move and massage your calf and your ankle for 15 to 30 seconds. Now, move and massage the top, inside, and outside of your left foot for 15 to 30 seconds. Gently move and massage the bottom of your left foot for 15 to 30 seconds. Now, gently move and massage your left ankle and calf for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat this process with the right ankle for 15 to 30 seconds.
To help prevent the symptoms of meralgia paresthetica from recurring, exercises should be performed on a regular basis. These exercises will improve and increase the blood flow to your legs.
Make sure to consult your physician or physical therapist before beginning these exercises.
How to avoid meralgia paresthetica:
Wear well-fitting shoes that provide good arch and heel support.
Treat any infections you have.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Wear compression stockings after flying or long periods of sitting.
Wear elastic support hose while working on your feet.
When flying, make sure you move around every 30 minutes to improve the blood flow and muscle tone in your legs.
Sit or stand up and walk around at least every 30 minutes.
What is the treatment for meralgia paresthetica?
Treatment for meralgia paresthetica depends on the underlying cause. If your leg numbness is caused by sitting or standing still for long periods, then treating this cause will help to alleviate your symptoms.
Other factors that can cause meralgia paresthetica are treated by your physician or physical therapist. If you have a pinched nerve, for example, your physician may prescribe pain medication, physical therapy, or a corticosteroid injection.
Some people are able to relieve their symptoms through simple at-home treatment. This includes rest, massage, icing, and elevation of the affected limb.
Massage will increase blood flow to the area while elevation helps reduce swelling.. Icing can reduce pain and inflammation.
If you have meralgia paresthetica, your physician may also recommend that you wear compression socks. These socks are designed to improve blood flow and decrease swelling.
Proper footwear is also essential. High heels and flip-flops should be avoided as much as possible. Heel support is essential when wearing any shoes, so choose a pair that fit well and provide good arch support.
Sources & references used in this article:
Five‐year follow‐up of a randomized trial to assess pain and numbness after laparoscopic or open repair of groin hernia by AM Grant, NW Scott, PJ O’Dwyer – British journal of surgery, 2004 – ingentaconnect.com
An analysis of postoperative thigh symptoms after minimally invasive transpsoas lumbar interbody fusion by MD Cummock, S Vanni, AD Levi, Y Yu… – Journal of Neurosurgery …, 2011 – thejns.org
Reconstruction of complex total parotidectomy defects using the free anterolateral thigh flap: a classification system and algorithm by RM Elliott, GS Weinstein, DW Low… – Annals of plastic …, 2011 – journals.lww.com
Clinical diagnosis of upper lumbar disc herniation: pain and/or numbness distribution are more useful for appropriate level diagnosis by T Kido, K Okuyama, M Chiba, H Sasaki, N Seki… – Journal of Orthopaedic …, 2016 – Elsevier
Reducing lateral skin flap numbness after total knee arthroplasty by BP Hopton, MC Tommichan, FR Howell – The Knee, 2004 – Elsevier