6 Reasons You Might Have Thigh Pain — Plus, What to Do

While there’s no one answer to the question “why do my thighs hurt?” this expert-backed breakdown of potential reasons and treatments can help.

Closeup of woman grabbing her thigh

It goes without saying that your thighs play a pretty huge role in helping you move around through both daily tasks and tough workouts. So, it can throw you for a serious loop when you find yourself suddenly struggling with thigh pain and wondering "why do my thighs hurt?"

"For the average person, thigh pain is not uncommon," says Mark Conroy, M.D., emergency medicine and sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "[And] for athletes, it's even more likely to happen."

Prevalence aside, though, if your upper legs are leaving you feeling lousy, you're likely eager to figure out WTF is going on — and this article can help you do just that. Ahead, experts explain six potential causes of thigh pain and remedies for each, so you can get back to moving and grooving sans any groans.

First, a Bit About Your Thighs

Given that you're currently doing some online sleuthing on thigh pain causes and remedies, you probably have, at the very least, a solid idea of where your thighs are on your body. But what about the specific thigh muscles and what do they do?

The thigh (aka the upper leg) contains several muscles, which allow the lower body to bend, flex, and rotate, according to the Cleveland Clinic. To make things (sort of) easy, the thigh muscles can be grouped based on their function and location:

  • Adductors, which allow you to bring the thighs toward each other.
  • Quadriceps, which are responsible for making sitting and standing fairly seamless.
  • Hamstrings, which allow you to extend your hip to move your leg behind your body (such as when you're walking) and to bend your knee (such as when squating).
  • Pectineus, which let you flex and rotate your thigh at the hip joint.
  • Satorius, which also allow you to flex and rotate from the hip joint (think: when sitting crossed-legged on the floor.)

Each of those groups has multiple muscles within them, making up plenty of areas that you can strain, bruise, stretch, or otherwise injure.

6 Common Causes of Thigh Pain

1. Tendinitis

Tendinitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon, one of the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can technically occur in any of your tendons, but when it comes to your thighs, it tends to impact two spots: the hamstrings (which contain three muscles that run down the back of your thigh) or quadriceps (which include four muscles that span the front of your thigh).

Hamstring tendonitis "is an overuse of the hamstring muscles," says Mark Slabaugh, M.D., a board-certified sports medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in and around Baltimore. Ditto for quadricep tendinitis. Both cases can cause some uncomfortable symptoms, such as a dull, achy feeling when you move your leg, tenderness when you move, and mild swelling, usually high up near your butt or down the back of your thigh, near your knee, explains Dr. Conroy.

"This tends to be an overuse injury — it's not something that develops suddenly," he says. "Usually, you'll have pain that progressively worsens over time." (A good example: After weeks of going hard at your gym's HIIT class, you start to wonder, "why do my thighs hurt?")

How to treat thigh pain: Because hamstring tendonitis is usually tied to using your hamstring muscles more than usual, take a beat to think about the exercises or activities you've been doing lately that could have caused it, and then scale back, suggests Dr. Conroy. So, if you've been training for a 5K, it might be a good idea to rest for a little bit. Every situation is different, but it's a good idea to give it a day or two and ease back into your exercise, listening to your body along the way. "Rest, stretching, ice, and heat are always helpful," he adds.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be helpful for relieving inflammation and easing any discomfort, says Jason P. Womack, M.D., chief of the Division of Sports Medicine and associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. While it's always a good idea to speak to

While it's always smart to speak to your doctor before trying any new meds, Dr. Womack recommends taking the NSAIDs when thigh pain strikes as directed on the label. If your discomfort doesn't get better after a week or so, reach out to your doc for an evaluation and the possibility of a referral to physical therapy.

2. Muscle Strain

A muscle strain, aka a pulled muscle, happens when one or several of the muscles in your thigh gets stretched too far, says Dr. Conroy. "This can happen if you go harder than you usually do or you haven't warmed up enough," he says, adding that it's usually seen in the quadriceps or hamstrings. There are, unfortunately, plenty of ways you can pull a muscle in your thigh, but you're more likely to do it when you suddenly amp up the intensity of an exercise, such as doing sprints when you haven't run fast in a long time or pushing yourself too hard during leg lifts.

This type of thigh pain can come on more suddenly than tendonitis and may feel like a cramp in the back or front of your thigh, depending on which muscle is impacted, says Dr. Conroy. "It's pretty tender at that moment and lessens after that."

How to treat thigh pain: Resting your muscles might very well do the trick if you're dealing with a pulled muscle, says Natasha Trentacosta, M.D., sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. "Most of the time with muscle strains, it will be resolved over time," she says. Meaning, you should progressively feel better over a few days and may feel good as new after a week. Stretching and icing the area can also help with the cramping and pain, adds Dr. Conroy. Exact stretches depend on where, exactly, you pulled a muscle, but lifting your leg up in the air until you feel a stretch (either with a strap, your hand, or resting it on a flat surface such on a wall) can help your hamstrings. And grasping your ankle and gently pulling your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh can stretch your quads. Doing these once or twice a day, along with icing, should help, says Dr. Conroy. (Related: How Long Does a Pulled Muscle Take to Heal?)

3. Trauma

When it comes to causes of thigh pain, "trauma" can refer to a range of reasons, from bruising your leg after running into the corner of your bed to actually tearing something internally. If you hit your leg on something, "there's usually a throbbing pain in the area that you struck," which can last for a day or two," says Dr. Conroy. But if you tore something? You might've actually felt a tearing or popping sensation that was immediately followed by some muscle weakness and difficulty putting weight on the injured leg.

How to treat thigh pain: The exact type of treatment depends on the intensity of the trauma. Simply bruising your upper leg might warrant just icing the area to prevent any swelling before it starts and alleviate any pain; it might also call for taking an NSAID (and, again, refer to the product label for specific directions), says Dr. Conroy. (Related: The Truth About Using Arnica Gel for Bruises and Sore Muscles)

But if you suspect that you've actually torn a tendon — which would cause symptoms such as "significant swelling and bruising" — you'll need to be seen by a doctor for treatment, says Dr. Trentacosta. They'll likely run some imaging tests to determine the extent of the tear and, in more extreme cases, may need to perform surgery to repair the damage.

4. Sciatica

Sciatica is essentially a symptom (think: pain) of an injury or irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in your body that runs from the base of your spine through your lower legs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). This nerve controls muscles in the back of your knee and lower leg and allows you to have feeling in the back of your thigh, part of your lower leg, and the sole of your foot.

In addition to pain, sciatica can also cause weakness, numbness, or tingling that starts in your lower back and extends down your leg, and it usually happens on one side of your body, says Dr. Womack. It can even travel down as far as your calf, foot, and toes or radiate "into the front of the thigh," he notes. There are a bunch of different reasons why you might suffer from sciatica, including a ruptured disc in your spine, narrowing of the spinal canal, and an injury such as a pelvic fracture — all of which can put pressure on the nerve, thereby causing thigh pain, according to the NLM.

How to treat thigh pain: If you think the cause of your thigh pain is, in fact, sciatica, you should schedule a visit with your doctor, as they'll be able to determine the best course of treatment, which typically begins with the least invasive method available, says Dr. Womack. That means recommending remedies, such as NSAIDs and muscle relaxants to address the pain from muscle spasms related to the nerve irritation, along with physical therapy to try to take pressure off the nerve. "If a patient is still not better after that, they may need an MRI to see if there's something pushing against the nerve," says Dr. Womack. And if there is, anti-inflammatory medications — OTC or prescription, depending on your pain intensity — and even surgery may be needed to fix the issue.

5. Blood Clot

A blood clot is a mass of blood that forms when platelets, proteins, and cells in your blood stick together, according to the NLM. They're normal under certain circumstances (think: to help you stop bleeding when you get a cut). But blood clots can potentially form where they shouldn't (such as when you're not injured) due to say, a lack of movement, such as post-surgery or while traveling long distances, and can be dangerous and cause thigh pain among other health issues. Deep vein thrombosis, for example, is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein, usually in your legs, that can cause throbbing, aching pain. If the clot "breaks loose," it can travel through your bloodstream and get stuck in your lungs, blocking blood flow and leading to serious health complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Related: Why Active Women Are at Risk for Blood Clots)

So if you're wondering "why do my thighs hurt?" survey your symptoms: Swelling, redness or discoloration of the skin and a feeling of warmth can all hint at a blood clot. "It might [also] feel like cramping or a deep ache in the leg," says Dr. Womack.

How to treat thigh pain: Blood clots are serious and you'll need to be seen ASAP if you suspect you might have one — which is why Dr. Womack suggests going to the emergency room, where you'll probably be given an ultrasound of your thigh to try to spot the clot. From there, you'll likely be treated with blood-thinning medication, such as Warfarin, to try to break up the clot and be monitored for several days, depending on how severe the clot is and how well the medication works, he says.

6. Meralgia Paresthetica

A common cause of thigh pain, meralgia paresthetica (say that five times fast) is characterized by tingling, numbness, and distinctive pain in your outer thigh, according to the Mayo Clinic. "It's typically a burning feeling on the front and [outer] side of your thigh," notes Dr. Conroy. It's caused by compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which provides sensation to the skin covering your thigh. While it might be super uncomfortable, this condition doesn't affect your ability to use your leg muscles. Unfortunately, however, something as simple as wearing tight clothing (e.g. belts, corsets, skin-tight pants) or being pregnant can lead to meralgia paresthetica. It can also be caused by weight gain and scar tissue in the area (outer thigh) due to injury or previous surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How to treat thigh pain: In many cases, meralgia paresthetica can be relieved by wearing more loose-fitting apparel and getting up and moving more often, says Dr. Conroy. OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs can also help address your upper leg aches. And, if those don't help, your pain is severe, and your symptoms are lasting for more than two months, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and/or tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline) or anti-seizure medications (e.g.gabapentin, phenytoin, or pregabalin) to provide pain relief, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you're having thigh pain that won't quit, doctors say it's important to get it checked out. "The most concerning thigh pain is sharp pains, particularly ones that don't resolve in 24 to 48 hours, or pain that's associated with limping," explains Dr. Trentacosta. "If you're not able to walk normally because of your thigh pain, you need to seek care."

You also shouldn't hesitate to consult a doc if your discomfort just isn't getting better, despite trying relief methods such as stretching and icing, adds Dr. Womack. After all, reaching out for help from an expert is always a good idea.

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