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What are Common Causes of Thigh Weakness?

By Sarah Sullins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Thigh weakness has many causes, including a charley horse, sciatica and spinal stenosis. It can be a side effect of taking certain medications. Extended bed rest or having to wear a cast or other immobilizer for long periods also can lead to thigh weakness. The problem often is accompanied by other symptoms.

A charley horse is a muscle spasm or leg cramp that can cause severe pain, though the pain usually subsides with the end of the cramp. A charley horse can be caused by dehydration, a lack of nutrients such as potassium in the body, or by irritated nerves. Many people experience charley horses while they are sleeping or while participating in a physical activity such as swimming or running. Weakness usually occurs right after a person has a charley horse. The temporary weakness may be accompanied by a bit of lingering pain and the area might be tender to the touch.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed or pinched. Sciatica symptoms frequently happen when a person has a herniated disk. The herniated disk will irritate the nerves, creating pain, weakness and numbness from the lower back down into a person's feet. This problem is more common as people age, often occurring in middle age after a back injury.

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which arthritis in the back narrows a person's spinal canal or a vertebra slips out of place. This causes a constant pain in the back and sometimes in the thighs. A person sometimes experiences numbness in his feet, and weakness in the thighs can occur.

A person who has been placed on bed rest because of an illness or injury may experience this weakness when trying to become mobile. This usually occurs because the legs are not being used as often as normal and the muscles deteriorate. Regular exercise is needed for people on extended bed rest. This reduces the chances that the muscles in the legs and thighs will atrophy and may also reduce other symptoms that might occur with the weakness.

Certain steroids can cause thigh weakness if used for long periods of time. Other symptoms that may occur with the long-term use of steroids include increased appetite, shrinking of the adrenal glands, acne, osteoporosis and fragile skin. The severity of the side effects leads many medical professionals to recommend that steroids not be taken for long periods of time.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Jul 11, 2011

What about cancer? Could thigh weakness be symptom of cancer? And if it is, which type of cancers might cause it?

By ddljohn — On Jul 10, 2011

Diabetics are at risk for thigh weakness as well. I don't think it happens to all diabetics, it's an illness that affects some diabetics where the muscles start to weaken and waste. It can affect thigh muscles as well. My uncle has been diabetic since childhood and he is under treatment for this now.

By cloudel — On Jul 10, 2011

I do get charley horses, but I have never had one while swimming. I am terrified of this, because I don't know if I would be able to lie back and float to shore calmly while in such pain. I wonder if these are the kinds of cramps that cause swimmers to drown.

I alternate between swimming and floating in my pool to practice in case I'm ever in deep water and need to float to safety. I like to be prepared so that I can overcome panic in emergency situations, but I don't know how to handle a charley horse in the water. There's no way to prepare for it unless I experience one in my pool.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 09, 2011

My sister had been having back pain that was so extreme she had to miss work. The pain would shoot from her back down to her thigh.

She told her doctor about his, and he said it was likely she had sciatica. She would have days when she was all right, but any activity could bring on the pain. Her husband had to take over and do the vacuuming because it always brought on an episode.

Her doctor gave her some exercises to help lessen the onset of pain. She does them when she can, but if the pain is too great, she has to skip a few days.

By Perdido — On Jul 08, 2011

I get charley horses in my sleep, but I surely don't stay asleep! I wake up startled and I cry out in pain. Someone who has never experienced this type of thigh pain would be shocked by how horrible it is. I am rendered immobile for several minutes.

Sometimes, after I have had a charley horse in my sleep, I will have a smaller amount of pain throughout the remainder of the day. I have to be careful not to step a certain way that would cause the cramped area to exert itself, because then the charley horse could start all over again.

I have to eat a banana every day to avoid this. If I go a few days without one, I get a cramp in my leg. Thigh pain for me can be avoided by eating the fruit, so I will eat it like medicine.

By geekish — On Jul 08, 2011

@runner101 - Some easy additions to your diet that are great sources of potassium are sweet potatoes, a plain old baked potato, yogurt, tomato sauce, and milk.

Spinach is also a good source and is a simple change, as they have spinach at some chain restaurants that you can throw onto your sandwiches or salads.

If you’re feeling exotic, then you can add some yellowfin tuna, avocados, or plantains to your diet. Yum!

By runner101 — On Jul 07, 2011

I couldn't believe how much upper thigh pain you can experience with a muscle spasm. I don't want to experience that again! I will officially be increasing my potassium intake...

I know bananas are a good source, any others? I like to try and get the nutrients via food sources as opposed to supplements.

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