Meralgia Paresthetica

What Is Meralgia Paresthetica?

Meralgia paresthetica is a condition that causes numbness, pain, or a burning feeling in your outer thigh. You might also hear it called Bernhardt-Roth syndrome. It happens when there’s too much pressure on or damage to one of the nerves in your leg.

In most cases, there are simple ways to treat the condition, such as wearing looser clothing. Some people with more severe meralgia paresthetica may need medication or surgery.

With the right treatment and enough time to recover, you can ease your symptoms and feel better.

Symptoms

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

Nerves travel throughout your body, carrying messages to and from your brain. A certain set of nerves, called the sensory nerves, gather and send signals to your brain about your skin, muscles, and other tissues.

If you have meralgia paresthetica, a large sensory nerve in your outer thigh doesn’t have enough room to pass through your hip bone or joints. This may be due to swelling, trauma, or increased pressure in this area.

A lot of things can squeeze or damage the nerve, including:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Tight clothing
  • Pregnancy
  • Injury, such as trauma from a seatbelt during a car crash
  • A disease that can damage the nerves, like diabetes
  • Repetitive motions that could irritate the nerve, such as certain leg movements
  • Standing or walking for a long time

Diagnosis

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and your medical history -- especially about any recent injuries or surgeries. The doctor will touch your leg to find the affected area.

The doctor may also do some tests, including:

  • Imaging tests of your leg and hip, such as X-rays or MRI.
  • Electromyography (EMG). Your doctor will put sensors on your leg. The sensors have small needles, which go into your muscle. They’re attached by wires to a machine that can measure the electricity in your muscles and nerves. Your doctor will ask you to slowly flex and relax your leg so the machine can record the activity.
  • Nerve conduction study. This test measures how fast electrical signals travel through your nerves. Usually, your doctor will put two sensors on the skin over the nerve in your thigh, one to give a small electric shock and the other to record the activity.

It can be hard to tell the difference between meralgia paresthetica and other back, hip, or groin conditions. Be patient as you work with your doctor to find the right diagnosis.

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Treatment

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:

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on September 4, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Meralgia Paresthetica.”

NYU Langone Medical Center: “Meralgia Paresthetica.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Burning Thigh Pain (Meralgia Paresthetica).”

UCLA Neurosurgery: “Meralgia Paresthetica: Conditions.”

UpToDate: “Meralgia paresthetica (lateral femoral cutaneous nerve entrapment.”

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