The unique sensation of a warm feeling in your thigh can be puzzling. You may experience it as the feeling of spilled warm milk or as a hot, burning pain. The warmth may be localized to a specific area or may affect your entire thigh.
Several conditions can cause a warm feeling in your thigh, including nerve, muscle, and joint problems. Nerve pain may sometimes be felt as warmth, which may progress into sharp, searing pain in the later stages. Pain from muscles and joints may be felt as a warm sensation due to the inflammatory process of the underlying tissues.
Here are a few examples:
A radiculopathy due to nerve root irritation or compression near the spine, can cause a variety of leg symptoms, including the feeling of warmth in your thigh. Radiculopathy from the lumbar nerve roots L1-L4 may cause 1 Manchikanti L, Singh V, Boswell MV. Lumbar Radiculopathy. In: Pain Management. Elsevier; 2007:758-768. doi:10.1016/b978-0-7216-0334-6.50087-x. :
- Pain along the outer side of the thigh, typically localized within a 5 to 8 cm wide area
- Numbness and weakness in the outer and/or inner thigh
When radicular pain from the spinal nerve roots radiates from the lower back into the thigh, leg, and/or foot, it is called sciatica. Sciatica is usually caused when one or more nerve roots from L4 to S1 are affected. 2 Wright R, Inbody SB. Radiculopathy and Degenerative Spine Disease. In: Neurology Secrets. Elsevier; 2010:121-130. doi:10.1016/b978-0-323-05712-7.00007-6.
See What You Need to Know About Sciatica
Radicular pain typically affects one leg at a time and is caused due to nerve root compression from herniated lumbar disc, degeneration of spinal structures, or tumors.
When a nerve is compressed, entrapped, or degenerated along its path, it is called neuropathy. Meralgia paresthetica is caused due to neuropathy of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which is a superficial sensory nerve in the thigh. 3 Ellis J, Schneider JR, Cloney M, Winfree CJ. Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve Decompression Guided by Preoperative Ultrasound Mapping. Cureus. 2018;10(11):e3652. Published 2018 Nov 28. doi:10.7759/cureus.3652. A few typical characteristics include 4 Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Salamh PA. Meralgia paresthetica: a review of the literature. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013;8(6):883–893. :
- Pain in the side and/or front of one or both thighs
- Buzzing or vibration felt inside your thigh
- Muscle ache and numbness in your thigh
See Understanding Neuropathy Symptoms
The pain may increase with prolonged standing and walking and reduce while sitting. 4 Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Salamh PA. Meralgia paresthetica: a review of the literature. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013;8(6):883–893.
Meralgia paresthetica is typically caused when a direct compression of the nerve occurs due to tight garments, pressure from seat belts, direct trauma, or muscle spasm in the hip. Other causes include damage to the nerve due to diabetes mellitus, alcoholism, and lead poisoning. 4 Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Salamh PA. Meralgia paresthetica: a review of the literature. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013;8(6):883–893. Severe abdominal fat can also cause meralgia paresthetica.
Watch: Causes of Neuropathic Pain Video
Other types of nerve pain in the thigh include femoral and obturator neuropathy. Obturator nerve pain may produce symptoms in the inner thigh, and femoral neuropathy usually causes symptoms from the thigh to travel down into the knee, leg, and/or foot. 5 Martin R, Martin HD, Kivlan BR. NERVE ENTRAPMENT IN THE HIP REGION: CURRENT CONCEPTS REVIEW. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017;12(7):1163–1173.
See Treatment Options for Neuropathic Pain
Greater trochanteric pain syndrome (GTPS)
GTPS is defined by a range of problems in the hip and may cause symptoms such as warmth or aches in the side of the thigh and hip. GTPS includes 6 Reid D. The management of greater trochanteric pain syndrome: A systematic literature review. J Orthop. 2016;13(1):15–28. Published 2016 Jan 22. doi:10.1016/j.jor.2015.12.006. :
- Tendinopathy: Chronic tendon pain
- External snapping hip: A muscle or tendon slides over the knobby bone at the top of the femur (thighbone), called the greater trochanter, causing pain and tenderness
See 3 Types of Snapping Hip Syndrome on Sports-health
- Trochanteric bursitis: Inflammation of the fluid-filled cavity present on the side of the hip
See Hip (Trochanteric) Bursitis on Arthritis-health
GTPS typically causes chronic intermittent pain in the side of the thigh, hip, and buttock. The pain increases with activity and while lying down on the affected side. 6 Reid D. The management of greater trochanteric pain syndrome: A systematic literature review. J Orthop. 2016;13(1):15–28. Published 2016 Jan 22. doi:10.1016/j.jor.2015.12.006.
Wear-and-tear arthritis of the hip joint may cause the sensation of warmth in the front and side of your thigh. Additional symptoms include:
- Pain along the side and/or front of the thigh, groin, and hip 7 Poulsen E, Overgaard S, Vestergaard JT, Christensen HW, Hartvigsen J. Pain distribution in primary care patients with hip osteoarthritis. Family Practice. 2016;33(6):601-606. doi:10.1093/fampra/cmw071. , 8 Lespasio MJ, Sultan AA, Piuzzi NS, et al. Hip Osteoarthritis: A Primer. Perm J. 2018;22:17–084. doi:10.7812/TPP/17-084.
- Stiffness in the hip 8 Lespasio MJ, Sultan AA, Piuzzi NS, et al. Hip Osteoarthritis: A Primer. Perm J. 2018;22:17–084. doi:10.7812/TPP/17-084.
- Locking, clicking, or grinding sound from the hip joint during movements 8 Lespasio MJ, Sultan AA, Piuzzi NS, et al. Hip Osteoarthritis: A Primer. Perm J. 2018;22:17–084. doi:10.7812/TPP/17-084.
See What Is Hip Osteoarthritis? on Arthritis-health
The warm sensation and other symptoms typically increase with activity, after prolonged sitting, or after waking in the morning. Sometimes, the pain may radiate down to the knee. 8 Lespasio MJ, Sultan AA, Piuzzi NS, et al. Hip Osteoarthritis: A Primer. Perm J. 2018;22:17–084. doi:10.7812/TPP/17-084.
See Hip Osteoarthritis Symptoms on Arthritis-health
It is advised to consult a doctor if warmth, pain, or other symptoms develop in your thigh. If symptoms such as fever, nausea, difficulty walking or standing are resent, they may indicate serious underlying conditions, such as tumors, infection, or severe nerve damage. A doctor can diagnose the accurate cause of your symptom(s) and formulate an effective treatment plan.
See Accurately Diagnosing Leg Pain
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