What Causes Pain In Thigh Muscle?

Wonder What Causes Pain In Your Thigh Muscle And How To Relieve It So That You Can Walk More Comfortably?

Watch the video to learn what causes thigh muscle pain, and what you can do to relieve pain in the back, front, outside, and inside of the thigh.

What Causes Pain In Thigh Muscle?

That depends on which thigh muscle you're asking about. In this post we'll cover:

Common Locations Of Thigh Muscle Pain:

Plus some other common questions about thigh pain:

Pain In Back Of Thigh Muscle

The muscle group in the back of your thigh is called the hamstring muscles.

Pulled hamstrings can cause pain in thigh muscle

The Hamstrings Are Actually 3 Separate muscles:

  • 2 in on the inside of the back of the thigh
    • Semitendinosis
    • Semimembranosis
  • 1 on the outside of the back of the thigh
    • Biceps femoris

Pain in the back of the thigh can be caused by a hamstring muscle strain (shown above), but it's actually rather rare to truly strain a hamstring.

It takes a lot of force to strain (or partially tear) a hamstring muscle.

However, there are several other things that cause pain in the back of the thigh that can feel like hamstring muscle pain.

Pain In Thigh Nerve?

Pain in the back of the thigh can be caused by sciatic nerve pain, or "sciatica".

Sciatica pain in thigh nerve

"Sciatica" is actually a really bad, non-descriptive term that basically means pain in the thigh or butt.  Sciatica is really more of a symptom than a diagnosis.

Causes of sciatica, or back of thigh nerve pain, can include:

Stretches For Back Of Thigh Muscle Pain

It's natural to think that when you have muscle pain, you should stretch the sore muscle.

After all, if a muscle feels "tight", it makes sense to stretch it, right?

However, if you have pain in the back of your thigh, whether it's muscle pain from the hamstrings or sciatic nerve pain, stretching your hamstrings is NOT usually a good option.

Strained Hamstring Muscles

If a strained hamstring is thigh muscle pain, that means the hamstring is already overstretched.

A muscle strain can range from simply overstretching a muscle (grade 1), to partially tearing it (grade 2), or fully tearing it (grade 3).

So if the hamstring muscle is overstretched or torn, stretching it more will only make the problem worse.

Sciatic Nerve Pain In Thigh

Nerve tissue is NOT made to be stretched.  Muscle tissue is designed to be able to stretch a little bit, but nerve tissue is not.

Nerves can slide back and forth in the protective sheath that surrounds them.  However, if you have a nerve that is "pinched" somewhere - for example in your lower back or buttock - the nerve looses it's ability to glide.

Imagine pinching a rubber band at one end and then pulling on the other end.

That's exactly what happens to your sciatic nerve when the nerve roots get pinched in your lower back or buttock and then you try to stretch your hamstrings.

Stretch The Front Of Thigh Muscles Instead

If you have pain in the back of your thigh, actually a better solution is usually to stretch the muscles in the front of your thigh - the hip flexors and quadriceps.

Stretching your hip flexors help prevent your lower back from getting pulled in to too much arch when standing, which can take pressure off of the nerve roots in the lower back that form your sciatic nerve.

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Anterior (front) pain in thigh above knee

The muscle in the front of your thigh is called the quadriceps.  The quadriceps muscle is made of 4 different parts (quad = "four", ceps = "heads").  All of the muscles join together to from the quad tendon and patellar tendon, inside which the kneecap sits.

If you get front of thigh muscle pain above the knee, that pain can be caused by stiff quadriceps.

The quadriceps muscle most likely to give  you pain your thigh above your knee is called the rectus femoris.

A Thigh Muscle That Doesn't Attach To The Thigh Bone

The rectus femoris muscle runs down the middle of the front of your thigh, but it doesn't actually attach directly to your thigh bone (femur).

Instead, your rectus femoris attaches to your pelvis, and your lower leg bone (the tibia), meaning that it crosses both the hip and the knee.

Muscles that cross 2 joints often become more problematic than muscles that act over 1 joint.  Just as the hamstring muscles cross both the hip and the knee in back of the thigh, the rectus femoris crosses both the hip and the knee in front of the thigh.

Therefore, your rectus femoris is both a knee extensor as well as a hip flexor muscle.  Thus, to stretch your rectus femoris muscle, you have to do just the opposite of that: extend your thigh backward with your knee bent.

Your Quadriceps Muscles Aren't The Only Cause Of Pain In Front Of The Thigh

Much like back of the thigh muscle pain, you have to also consider if the pain is coming from joints or nerves.

Front thigh muscle pain can also be caused by:

  • Pain referred from your hip joint
  • The femoral nerve
  • The L2, L3, or L4 nerve roots from your lower back.

L2, L3, L4 nerve roots can cause pain in front of thigh Femoral nerve can cause pain in thigh above knee

Your femoral nerve is the nerve in front of your thigh that innervates the quadriceps muscles. It comes from the L2, L3, and L4 nerve roots in the spine as shown above.

The femoral nerve can cause pain in front of the thigh if it is compressed at either the nerve roots or in the front of the pelvis as it passes in front of the hip joint.

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Inner Thigh Muscle Pain

If your hip adductor muscle are to stiff, they can cause inner thigh muscle pain.

causes for pain in inner thigh can include the hip adductor muscles

If you spend lot of time sitting with your legs crossed, the hip adductor muscles can get stiff.  Crossing your legs when sitting can cause inner thigh pain as well as hip pain or knee pain when sitting.

Suggestion: don't do it.

...at least not all the time.

It's ok to sit with your legs crossed every now and then, but if you sit that way regularly, you'll create muscle imbalances, particularly if you always cross the same leg over the other.

Other Causes Of Inner Thigh Pain

  • Obturator nerve (inner thigh nerve pain)
  • Kidney stone
  • Hip joint pain

Inner Thigh Nerve Pain From The Obturator Nerve

Much like your femoral nerve, the obturator nerve comes from the L2, L3, and L4 nerve roots, but it runs down the inner thigh instead of the front of the thigh.

If you get burning pain in your inner thigh, or numbness and tingling in your inner thigh, the obturator nerve may be involved.

Largely, avoiding crossing your legs, and stretching your lower back to open the spaces where the nerve roots exit the spine can help with obturator nerve problems.

Inner Thigh Pain From Kidney Stone

If your inner thigh pain is caused by a kidney stone, you'll usually notice other symptoms such as burning pain when you urinate or blood in your urine.  If you notice these symptoms, contact a urologist.

The Hip Joint Can Cause Pain In Thigh

The hip joint is actually located in groin region, not on the outside of the thigh as many people think.  As such, problems in the hip joint often cause groin or inner thigh pain.

Such problems may include: 

  • Hip osteoarthritis
  • A labrum tear in the hip
  • Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI)

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Outer Thigh Muscle Pain

Many things can cause outer thigh muscle pain, but the most common cause is a problem with the tensor fasciae latae muscle and the iliotibial band (IT band).

pain in thigh muscle on the outer thigh can be caused by the IT band

Tensor fasciae latae is small muscle that attaches to the outer side of the front of the pelvis.  Despite it's small size though, it causes a lot of problems including pain on the outside of the hip, pain on the outside of the thigh, and pain on the outside of the knee.

I've got a whole post on IT Band pain so if you have muscle pain on the outside of the thigh, I'd suggest you check that out.

Other Causes Of Pain On The Outside Of The Thigh

  • Vastus lateralis / IT band interface
  • Lateral femoral cutaneous nerve pain in thigh (meralgia paresthetica)
  • L4, L5, or S1 nerve pain

Outer Thigh Pain From Vastus Lateralis / IT Band

The vastus lateralis is one of your other 3 quadriceps muscles mentioned above that does NOT cross the knee.  The IT band runs overtop of the vastus lateralis, so part of the vatus lateralis is in front of the IT band and part of it is behind the IT band.

It's common for trigger points to develop along the front or back of the IT band where it interfaces with the vastus lateralis.

Foam rolling, manual trigger point therapy, and dry needling can all be helpful treatment for this type of pain in the outer thigh.

Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve Pain In Thigh (Meralgia Paresthetica)

The lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is a small nerve that runs through your tensor fasciae latae muscle.  It can cause burning pain, numbness, and/or tingling in your outer thigh, a condition called meralgia paresthetica.

It can get compressed if your tensor fasciae latae muscle is too tight.  It can also get injured during an anterior approach hip replacement surgery, as the surgical incision is very close to that nerve.

If the nerve is cut during surgery, it can take weeks, months, or years for the nerve to repair.... or it may never completely recover.

However, if the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is just being compressed by tight muscles, stretching your hip flexors can help

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Pain In Upper Thigh When Walking

Pain In Back Of Thigh When Walking

Pain in the upper thigh when walking is usually caused by some type of lower back nerve problem such as lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar spinal stenosis causes a narrowing of the spaces on the outside of the lower back where the nerve roots to the legs exit, or sometime narrowing around the spinal cord itself.

The most common complaint among people who have lumbar spinal stenosis is back and leg pain when standing or walking.

Check out our post about how to relieve back and leg pain when walking.

Relieve Pain In Outer Thigh When Walking

Hip muscle weakness can cause pain on the outside of the hip and thigh when walking.

You can do exercises for weak glute muscles, such as clamshells.  However, often the best way to relieve hip and thigh pain when walking is just to make some slight changes to the way you walk.

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Pain In Thigh During Pregnancy

Pain in thigh during pregnancy is fairly common.  If you only get a little pain in your thigh every now and then and you're close to the end of  your pregnancy, you probably don't need to do too much about it... just wait it out.

However, if you've got a few months left in your pregnancy and you're have pain you your thigh that keeps you from being active, doing your work or day to day activities, or is otherwise interfering with your life, there IS something you can do about is.

What Causes Pain In Thigh During Pregnancy?

Pain in thigh during pregnancy is usually caused by one or more of the following:

  • Lower back referred pain
  • SI joint pain
  • Pubic symphysis apin

Pain In Lower Back And Thigh During Pregnancy

As your baby gets larger, the weight of the fetus can pull your pelvis into a forward tilt. This compresses the joints in the lower back together, particularly the L4, L5, and S1 segments.

As mentioned above, these segments can cause pain in the thigh.  Wearing a maternity belt and doing GENTLE core strengthening exercises can help relieve pain in your back and thigh during pregnancy.  I would highly suggest doing this under guidance of a physical therapist so that you don't overdo it or otherwise make the issue worse.

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SI Joints Can Cause Thigh Pain During Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, you release hormones that make your ligaments more stretchy so that the pelvis can expand in order to deliver a baby.

SI joints and pubic symphysis can cause pain in thigh during pregnancy

When the SI joints get too loose, they can get "stuck" in an endrange position causing pain in your buttock or back of your thigh.

Getting spinal manipulation when you're pregnant to unlock the joints isn't advisable, but some gentle stretching using your hip and thigh muscles can usually get the joints "un-stuck".

To keep the joints from getting "stuck" again, using a maternity belt as and having physical therapy can help.

The Pubic Symphysis Can Cause Inner Thigh Pain During Pregnancy

The pubic symphysis is a fibrocartilage disc in the front of the pelvis that forms a joint between the two sides of the pelvis as pictured above.

When you're pregnant, much like the SI joints, the pubic symphysis gets more stretchy in order to prepare the pelvis to expand to deliver a baby.

A pubic symphysis dysfunction can refer pain into the inner thighs.

Similarly to SI joint pain, physical therapy can help.

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Summary

Thigh "muscle" pain isn't always caused by the the thigh muscles.

As you can see from this post, there are MANY different things that can cause pain in the thighs, and many of them feel like muscle pain.

Hopefully some of the tips in this article help you out.

However, if you'd like the quickest route to getting rid of your thigh pain, and you want to have the certainty that you're treating the right problem rather than guessing at it, request an appointment with one of our specialists, and we'd be happy to help you with your thigh pain.

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