Ask the expert


Numbness in leg

I seem to have lost feeling in a section of my right leg. Just the skin? It started 10 years ago but this last month it's started to spread quickly. Any idea?

11 February 2019

Numbness is a decrease in or loss of sensation and is most often caused by damage, irritation or compression of nerves. Numbness can occur anywhere in the body, but is commonly felt on the skin of the fingers, hands, feet, arms and legs.

There are several causes of this condition. Your doctor will need detailed information about your symptoms to diagnose the cause of your numbness. If the area of numbness you describe is in the upper outer thigh it could be due to Meralgia paraesthetica.

Meralgia paraesthetica is a nerve condition that causes an area of skin over the upper outer thigh to become numb or tingly. The lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh is found in the upper leg. It provides sensation to an area of skin on the upper outer thigh. If this nerve is trapped or compressed, burning pain, numbness or tingling might be felt in the area of skin supplied by the nerve. Other reported symptoms include tingling or pins and needles, aching in the groin, pain in the buttocks and an area of skin that seems super-sensitive to heat and touch.

Treatments for meralgia paraesthetica

Treatments can be grouped into conservative (non-surgical) and surgical treatments. In most cases, only conservative treatments are needed.

  • Examples of conservative treatments include:
    Rest and relaxation - meralgia paraesthetica is aggravated by standing and walking
  • Weight loss - if obesity is thought to be the cause
  • Physical therapies - manipulation, massage and stretching exercises can sometimes help
  • Pain relief - such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Cortisone injections - commonly referred to as steroid injections. A steroid, and usually some local anaesthetic, can be injected around the lateral cutaneous nerve to numb it and reduce inflammation.

Diagnosing meralgia paraesthetica

A doctor can usually make the diagnosis based on your symptoms and examination. The diagnosis is likely to be suspected if you have typical pain or sensory symptoms affecting the upper outer thigh. Because the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh is a sensory nerve, it affects feeling and sensation. It does not affect movement of the leg or hip. These symptoms would be the result of another of condition.

Answered by the Health at Hand team

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