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Understanding the pain in your upper leg

Upper leg pain can be caused by various injuries. It could be caused by an injury to the thigh area or by referred pain.

Referred pain originates from a region other than the thigh, but can still cause pain in that area, while there might be nothing wrong with the thigh itself. Referred thigh pain is typically caused by an injury to the sacroiliac joint or lower back. Thigh injuries, whether it be local pain or referred pain, can be caused by an acute trauma or gradually build up over time.


Bone and joint related thigh pain

A fracture to the femur bone is a very rare cause of thigh pain. A fracture could happen after a high impact injury or with a pre-existing bone condition. An injury of the hip or knee joint can cause referred pain in the thigh region and can also increase tension and tenderness in the thigh muscles.

A joint injury could be caused by acute inflammation (arthritis), degenerative changes (osteoarthritis), a cartilage injury or a joint ligament strain or sprain. Often these injuries will also cause some swelling, which will be more obvious when it is knee related than when the hip joint is affected.


Muscle and tendon related thigh pain

The main muscle groups of your thigh are the quadriceps at the front, hamstring at the back and the adductors at this inside of the thigh. A strain occurs when the fibres in a muscle are stretched beyond their capability.

Depending on the force, this can lead to anything from a minor muscle strain to a full thickness muscle tear.

A strain or sprain to a thigh muscle will cause discomfort when trying to use that muscle. It is not uncommon to notice some swelling and/or bruising as well. Muscular thigh injuries most often are the result of a sports injury. Apart from this acute cause, thigh muscle injuries can also have a more gradual onset. For example, a poor posture can cause overloading of specific thigh muscles.

Tendon-related pain can happen to any thigh muscle. A tendon connects the muscle to the bone which means a tendon injury can happen on both ends of the muscle. The most common tendon injuries are adductor tendinopathy, rectus femoris tendinopathy and gluteal tendinopathy. The injury can be acute but very often slowly builds up over time and is aggravated by loading the tendon.

An increase in muscle tension could cause an increased pressure on a bursa: a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a muscles, tendons, and bones. An irritated bursa might develop into a bursitis, which is an inflammation of a bursa. A subtrochanteric bursitis is the most common one and will cause pain on the outside of the top of the thigh.


Nerve-related thigh pain

Reduced neural mobility in the femoral or sciatic nerve can also cause thigh pain. Muscles innervated by that nerve can increase in tension if the nerve is agitated. Problems with the nerve can also lead to the feeling of pins and needles or numbness in the leg.


Blood flow-related thigh pain

Vascular problems such as a deep venous thrombosis (blood clot), varicose veins or poor circulation can also lead to thigh pain. Blood clots and vascular disorders may require the care of your GP, who might refer you to a vascular specialist. Prompt medical attention is strongly recommended.


Physiotherapy treatment for upper leg pain

Your physiotherapist can help you to determine exactly where your pain is coming from to ensure optimal treatment. The treatment will differ a lot depending what structure is responsible for the symptoms that you are experiencing. The physiotherapist will also pay for essay offer you some great advice how to reduce your pain and what you can do yourself to speed up recovery.

A thigh injury can be caused by a variety of injuries but it is important to know what issue is responsible for your discomfort or pain to optimise treatment. A proper diagnosis is the key to success!


For an in-depth assessment from our team of experienced physiotherapist and to help you get you started living pain free, book online now.

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