What is meralgia paresthetica?

The body has two lateral femoral cutaneous nerves, one on each side of the body. They attach to the spine and then run down the outer thigh, helping to create sensation and nerve response on the outer thigh. If one of these nerves becomes compressed, it can cause a condition called meralgia paresthetica, which can cause tingling, burning sensations, or a feeling of numbness or dullness on the outside of the thigh.

There are many things that can cause meralgia paresthetica or compression of a lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. Sometimes the condition occurs when people are pregnant because there is pressure on the nerve. Alternatively, some overweight people may also have this problem. Something as small as wearing tight clothing, sitting and/or riding a bike especially for long periods of time could also trigger this condition. On the other hand, the actual damage to the nerve may have occurred through traumatic injury or conditions such as diabetes.

As stated above, the main symptom of meralgia paresthetica is a numbness, burning, or tingling sensation on the outside of the thigh. Some people may also have numbness in the buttocks on the affected side. It should be noted that it is rare for symptoms to occur on both sides of the body. Usually only one nerve is compressed or damaged and this would only change feelings on the side of the body that the nerve inhabits.

People who notice these symptoms may want to see a doctor, as nerve damage could be present and the condition is not minor. Doctors will likely test each patient for common causes. They may ask about weight gain, pregnancy, common types of activity, whether clothing is generally tight, and whether there have been any recent accidents or injuries. The goal is to narrow down the cause and, if possible, rule out conditions such as diabetes that could lead to meralgia paresthetica.

Once diagnosed, treatment can depend a lot on the cause. Often changing a few behaviors is all that is needed. For example, the overweight person may need to lose a few pounds to relieve compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. Pregnant women will usually see an end to this problem after they deliver their babies. People who have this problem caused by sitting in certain types of settings may require a different type of seat.

When meralgia paresthetica is causing burning pain, doctors may recommend medications to promote greater comfort. These could include over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If the condition does not improve, other medications may be tried. These interventions are usually sufficient, but if the pain persists, doctors might recommend surgery to treat the affected nerve and final compression. This is usually a treatment of last resort and doctors do not usually favor an aggressive approach to meralgia paresthetica unless clearly medically indicated.

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