Vigorous sports can tear muscles and cause a sharp pain in the thigh.
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Everyone deals with random aches and pains from time to time — indeed, muscle pain is a part of life. But when it comes to a sharp pain in the front of your thigh, there are several possible causes.
The pain may be due to muscle injury, nerve issues, tendon damage or in some cases, nothing at all. Here is more information about what may be causing sharp pain in the front of your thigh.
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1. Muscle Soreness
One of the common reasons for sharp pain in the front of the thigh is delayed muscle soreness after exercise, says Joshua Scott, MD, a board-certified primary care sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. So if you are experiencing sharp pain in the front of your thigh and you have recently worked out or participated in physical activity, you may just need to rest your muscle. It may also be a good idea to speak with a trainer or physical therapist about how to support your muscles, such as with stretching, or heat or ice therapy.
Outside of muscle soreness, however, Dr. Scott notes that pain may also be attributed to more serious causes, such as a muscle strain or tear. For example, thigh pain could actually be referred pain from the lower back or the hip/knee joint due to a cartilage injury or arthritis. There are also other types of injuries that could cause thigh pain:
2. Quadriceps Tear
The quadriceps are a group of four large muscles in the front top of the thigh. The muscles extend from the thigh to the knee and are involved in walking, running, jumping and many other leg movements. Accidents, blows to the thigh or vigorous training can cause the muscles — as well as the tendons that connect to the muscles and allow them to work — to tear partially or even rupture completely.
Dr. Scott explains that the symptoms of a quadriceps tear include:
- Severe pain that starts suddenly, usually at the same time you are using the thigh muscles
- Pain while bearing weight on the affected leg
- Swelling and discoloration in the affected area
A complete tear can take months to heal, and it is important to return to activities slowly, under your doctor's recommendations and guidance as you recover. However, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons notes that quadriceps tears are actually very rare, and occur most often in middle-aged adults who are participating in sports that involve running or jumping.
Read more: Stretches for Thigh Pain
3. Groin Pull
The groin muscles run from the hip to the inner thigh. Forceful movements of the inner thigh muscles can cause tears. Athletes who do hurdles, perform long jump and use repetitive starting and stopping motions are at greatest risk, but you can pull your groin muscles with something as simple as stretching too much, according to Denver Health.
Dr. Scott notes that some symptoms of a possible groin pull include:
- A sudden onset of pain in the inner thigh, usually while exercising or with a quick movement
- Pain that gets worse when you make a movement that brings the legs together
- Pain and limping while walking
To recover from a groin pull, you should avoid strenuous activity that would aggravate the injury. You can also ice the area, take anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) and wear a supportive bandage called a thigh wrap, according to Summit Medical Group.
4. Hip Flexor Strain
The hip flexors are another group of muscles located in the upper part of the thigh that help to move the hip forward and up. As with other muscle groups, blows or forceful movements can cause a tear.
With a hip flexor tear, the pain is usually in the front of the hip or thigh, and happens especially when lifting the leg, says Dr. Scott. He adds that this can occur with running or climbing stairs. Anyone who participates in activities with repetitive motions that involve the hip, such as cycling, swimming, running, golfing or baseball, are at the highest risk for this injury.
Additionally, a hip flexor tear may be confused with a groin pull, since both conditions can cause pain in the groin area. As with a quadriceps tear, if the muscles suffer a complete tear, the pain will be more severe than a partial tear, and there will be a long recovery period. See your doctor if you suspect you have this type of injury.
Read more: 3 Simple Stretches to Help Relieve Hip Pain
5. Hip Arthritis
As Dr. Scott previously mentioned, pain in the front of your thigh may actually be referred pain from arthritis of the hip. He explains that some characteristics of pain due to arthritis include:
- A slow onset of pain that can occur in the groin, or radiate into the thigh or inner knee
- The pain occurs when you're walking or turning the hip inward
- The pain may be mild and achy, or sharp
Hip arthritis can make weight-bearing activities difficult, and may be accompanied by stiffness, redness and swelling. There are various forms of arthritis that can occur in the hip, so it is important to have the cause diagnosed so that the right treatment approach can be chosen.
6. Inguinal Hernia
A hernia occurs when there is a weakness somewhere in the abdominal wall, allowing the intestines to push through and causing the abdomen to bulge. If this happens in the lower portion of the abdomen, causing a downward bulge, it is called a groin or inguinal hernia.
According to Dr. Scott, symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- A sudden onset of pain in the groin that can travel to the thigh
- Pain that gets worse with coughing, sneezing or with heavy lifting
- In some cases, a bulge in the groin may be felt when the pain occurs
See your doctor if you believe you have an inguinal hernia.
7. Nerve Pain
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, there is also a type of nerve damage that can cause pain in the outer thigh, called meralgia paresthetica. This condition occurs when the nerve that runs along the side of the femur (your thigh bone) is compressed.
Symptoms of this condition can include:
- Pain on only side of the outer thigh, that may also extend to the outer side of the knee
- Burning sensation, tingling or numbness
- Pain that radiates to the buttocks
The main causes of the nerve pain from this condition are due to restrictive clothing or excess weight putting pressure on the nerve. For example, individuals who wear tight stockings, girdles or work equipment, such as a heavy tool belt, are at risk. Sometimes, a seatbelt injury during a car crash can also cause the condition.
When to See a Doctor
Because there can be so many causes behind sharp pain in the front of the thigh, it may be difficult to know when you should seek medical attention.
Dr. Scott recommends seeing a doctor if the pain you are experiencing lasts for more than two weeks, the pain is severe, you are limping or can't bear weight on your leg, there is swelling or redness, or if the pain is so severe that it wakes you up at night.
Severe leg pain located around the thigh can be caused by trauma from a femoral break or muscle strain. A deep, shooting pain in the upper leg can also be caused by deep vein thrombosis, spinal stenosis, or a thigh bone infection.What to do if you have a sharp pain in your upper thigh? ›
- Rest, stretching, and ice: Taking time to let the body heal can sometimes be the best medicine for mild pain. ...
- Over-the-counter pain relief: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), are commonly used to help reduce pain and limit inflammation.
This large nerve supplies sensation to the front and side of your thigh. Meralgia paresthetica results in sensations of aching, burning, numbness, or stabbing in the thigh area.What causes sudden stabbing pain? ›
Nerve compression—many people experience sharp pain in various parts of the body due to a compressed nerve. Most commonly, the nerve may be pinched where it joins the spine, either through a herniated disc or other tissue impingement, but it may happen in other places as well.
Signs and symptoms that warrant a visit to a medical professional include: Severe pain that limits your ability to function (like having difficulty walking) Thigh pain accompanied by fever or malaise (can be a sign of infection) Thigh pain with redness, swelling, and warmth of your skin (can sign of a blood clot)What nerve causes pain in front of thigh? ›
The femoral nerve is located in the pelvis and goes down the front of the leg. It helps the muscles move the hip and straighten the leg. It provides feeling (sensation) to the front of the thigh and part of the lower leg.Can sciatica hurt in the front of the thigh? ›
Common Sciatica Symptoms. Usually, sciatica affects only one leg at a time and the symptoms radiate from the lower back or buttock to the thigh and down the leg. Sciatica may cause pain in the front, back, and/or sides of the thigh and leg.Is Thigh pain related to heart? ›
Pain in your leg can be a sign of a wider health issue. If you're at high risk of developing heart disease, your leg pain could be due to peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD shares many causes and risk factors with coronary artery disease (CAD) and can be an early sign.What can cause Thigh pain without injury? ›
Not getting enough exercise or spending too much time sitting each day can damage the muscles, causing chronic pain. Sitting for long periods can put pressure on the joints and muscles, particularly of the hips and legs. Lack of activity may also cause the muscles to weaken, triggering widespread muscle pain.What is the reason for Thigh pain in females? ›
Thigh pain is generally a result of tissue inflammation caused by an injury or any existing medical condition that affects the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and blood vessels. It is characterized by weakness, numbness, throbbing, cramping, or a tingling sensation. It can also be a sign of diabetic neuropathy.
Call for immediate medical help or go to an emergency room if you: Have a leg injury with a deep cut or exposed bone or tendon. Are unable to walk or put weight on your leg. Have pain, swelling, redness or warmth in your calf.Is stabbing pain a nerve pain? ›
Nerve pain often feels like a shooting, stabbing or burning sensation. Sometimes it can be as sharp and sudden as an electric shock. People with neuropathic pain are often very sensitive to touch or cold and can experience pain as a result of stimuli that would not normally be painful, such as brushing the skin.What is the difference between sharp and stabbing pain? ›
Sharp: When you feel a sudden, intense spike of pain, that qualifies as “sharp.” Sharp pain may also fit the descriptors cutting and shooting. Stabbing: Like sharp pain, stabbing pain occurs suddenly and intensely. However, stabbing pain may fade and reoccur many times.Can muscle pain be sharp and stabbing? ›
Muscle pain can also feel different—aching, cramping, stabbing, or burning—depending on what is causing it.Should I be concerned about upper thigh pain? ›
In most cases, upper thigh pain is not cause for concern. It can typically be treated at home with some simple strategies such as ice, heat, activity moderation, and over-the-counter medication.What causes nerve pain in upper thigh? ›
It's caused by compression of the nerve that provides sensation to the skin covering your thigh. Tight clothing, obesity or weight gain, and pregnancy are common causes of meralgia paresthetica. However, meralgia paresthetica can also be due to local trauma or a disease, such as diabetes.What does nerve pain feel like in thigh? ›
Nerve pain is typically described as sharp, shooting, electric-like, or searing pain. It may also produce a sensation of hot or warm water running down the thigh and/or leg. In some individuals, a dull ache may occur. The pain may be intermittent or constant.Can spinal stenosis cause pain in front of thigh? ›
L2 nerve root controls sensation of the front of the thigh, buttock and control of the iliopsoas muscles, which aids with stair climbing and placing foot forward while walking. Stenosis around this nerve may cause difficulty while walking up the stairs and/or pain that radiates into the front of the thigh.What are the symptoms of a blocked artery in your thigh? ›
Leg numbness or weakness. No pulse or a weak pulse in the legs or feet. Painful cramping in one or both of the hips, thighs or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. Shiny skin on the legs.Can blocked arteries cause thigh pain? ›
Claudication is pain in your thigh, calf, or buttocks that happens when you walk. It can make you limp. It may be a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD). This is when narrowed or blocked arteries reduce the blood flow to your legs.
High blood pressure can lead to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), where narrowing of the blood vessels restricts the blood flow to the legs and feet, causing pain.What is the differential diagnosis for thigh pain? ›
The differential diagnosis of unilateral anterior thigh pain includes upper-lumbar radiculopathy, lumbar plexopathy, femoral neuropathy, obturator neuropathy, benign or malignant tumor, meralgia paresthetica, herpes zoster, and local musculoskeletal pathology.How can you tell the difference between a blood clot and muscle pain? ›
A DVT will often present with pain, redness, heat and a palpable lump, whereas a strain or muscle cramp will be painful but doesn't always have redness or heat radiating from the area. A cramp can usually be “walked off”, whereas a DVT has a constant pain intensity.What are the symptoms of femoral nerve entrapment? ›
Symptoms. Symptoms may include any of the following: Sensation changes in the thigh, knee, or leg, such as decreased sensation, numbness, tingling, burning, or pain. Weakness of the knee or leg, including difficulty going up and down stairs -- especially down, with a feeling of the knee giving way or buckling.How do you relieve femoral nerve pain? ›
Medications for femoral nerve pain include corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling and inflammation in your leg. Conversely, painful and uncomfortable symptoms can be relieved by prescribed or over-the-counter pain medications.Where do you feel femoral nerve pain? ›
Pain that radiates from your back and hips into your legs (radicular pain) is a common sign of femoral nerve damage. Other symptoms include: Leg, ankle or foot numbness, weakness, tingling, paralysis or pain. Lower back pain, hip pain or groin pain.What are the symptoms of a pinched nerve in your thigh? ›
Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve. Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward. Tingling, pins and needles sensations (paresthesia) Muscle weakness in the affected area.