Back when I was in acupuncture school, I remember studying about a condition that caused numbness in the upper thigh. Because it seemed like an odd and uncommon condition, I filed the information somewhere in the back of my brain thinking it was something I’d never need to know again. Now, over ten years later, I’ve actually seen a couple of patients with this very complaint just in the past few weeks. Their main symptom is numbness, pain, or a burning sensation on the side of their upper thigh.
The condition is called meralgia paresthetica, and it’s actually caused by a trapped nerve upstream, in your hip. Your lateral cutaneous nerve can become pinched or compressed where it passes between the front of your pelvis and the inguinal ligament. Meralgia paresthetica can be caused by weight gain, diabetes, and even wearing too tight underwear (seriously!), a tight belt or waistband. It can be aggravated by some leg exercises, standing for long periods or walking long distances.
In Chinese medicine, the pain or numbness associated with this condition involves an energetic pathway that runs down the side of your body. Its trajectory runs from the side of your head, through your shoulder, down the side of your torso, and down the entire side of your leg and into your foot. According to Chinese theory, any pain in your body is caused by a blockage of some kind, including energy; blood;and in the case of meralgia paresthetica, the blockage is related to the nerve.
A practitioner of Chinese medicine would most likely treat this condition with acupuncture, possibly combined with electric stimulation and/or Tui Na (a bodywork similar to massage). Personally, when treating patients with this condition I’ve found that focusing on the front of the pelvis–the site of the trapped nerve–is most effective.
There are a few things that you can do for yourself if you are experiencing meralgia paresthetica, including:
-Wear looser clothing, especially around your waist, hips, and leg bands.
-If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds (or maybe more than a few) may help relieve the pressure on the nerve.
-Rest after any activities that seem to aggravate your symptoms. This includes walking, standing for long periods, and bicycling.