Meralgia paresthetica, also known as Bernhardt-Roth syndrome, is a neurological condition that causes sensory changes in the outer surface of the thigh.

Symptoms include pain, burning, tingling, or partial sensory loss due to compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve. The nerve originates in the lower spine and leaves the pelvis under the inguinal ligament.

Wearing tight-fitting clothing, and doing activities such as standing, walking, or cycling for long periods of time, can bring on meralgia paresthetica. It can also be a complication of hip or back surgery. Symptoms commonly occur on one side of the body and may increase in severity after walking or standing.

A 2011 study in Neurology found that there’s an association between meralgia paresthetica and those with obesity or diabetes. People with diabetes are over seven times more likely to develop meralgia paresthetica than the general population. It’s also common in pregnant women or those who have suffered trauma to the hip area.

Surgery is typically considered a last resort for treatment of meralgia paresthetica. Conservative treatment includes:

  • pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • weight management
  • wearing loose clothing
  • lifestyle modification
  • exercise

Exercises that reduce muscle tension and improve flexibility and strength may help decrease pain due to meralgia paresthetica. Some examples are listed below.

Cat-Camel

Image source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

This exercise promotes pelvic mobility and encourages movement of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve through the pelvic area.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: spine stabilizers, lumbar extensors, abdominals

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly below your hips at 90 degrees.

  2. Begin by slowly arching your back, letting your belly sag and lifting your chest and eyes up to look up at the ceiling.

  3. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.

  4. Slowly return to starting position. Next, tuck your pelvis and arch your back in the other direction while you let your head drop down and relax.

  5. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds.

  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Quadriceps Stretch

  1. Stand facing a wall with one hand on the wall for balance.

  2. Bend one leg at the knee and bring your foot towards your buttocks.

  3. Reach back with your free hand to gently guide your foot closer to your body until you feel a stretch in the front of the thigh.

  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.

Lunges

Image source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

Lunges work to build strength in the legs and help improve balance and stability. They can also provide a stretch to tight muscles of the hip, which may improve pain.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: thigh muscles including quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as the glutes and core muscles

  1. Stand up tall with hands by your side.

  2. Take a large step forward and slowly bend your knees and lower the body down until your back knee touches the floor. Be sure to take a big enough step so that your front knee doesn’t go past your toes.

  3. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.

  4. Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each side and complete 3 sets.

Bridging

Image source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

This exercise helps stretch the hip flexors and strengthens the muscles of the core, legs, and buttocks to improve function and reduce pain.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: spinal stabilizers, lumbar extensors, abdominals, gluteus, hamstrings

  1. Start by lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.

  2. Slowly raise the hips off the ground until the body is in a straight line, pushing the heels into the floor and squeezing the glutes at the top.

  3. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat.

  4. Repeat 10 to 15 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets.

The Takeaway

A 2013 review in the International Journal of Sports Therapy suggests that stretching and strengthening exercises for the pelvis, hip, and core, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, may be effective in relieving pain and symptoms of meralgia paresthetica.

Always consult a doctor before beginning an exercise program and stop an exercise if it causes increased pain or discomfort. Exercise is a beneficial treatment for some nerve impingement syndromes, but too much exercise can make symptoms worse.

These exercises combined with lifestyle modification like avoiding activities that cause pain and losing weight, can help prevent or improve symptoms and improve overall function and quality of life.