Pain in the front of the thigh, also called anterior thigh pain, can result from causes such as quadriceps muscle strain, contusions, stress fractures, and tendonitis.
Medically reviewed by Dr Chaminda Goonetilleke, 24th Jan. 2022
Sudden onset anterior thigh pain
Acute injuries are sudden and include muscle and tendon strains as well as fractures. These injuries typically have a specific moment or point in time when they occurred.
Quadriceps strain (thigh strain)
A thigh strain, also known as a quadriceps strain, refers to a tear in one of the quadriceps muscles located at the front of the thigh.
Symptoms commonly include:
- Sudden sharp pain at the front of the thigh
- Possible swelling, depending on the severity of the injury
- Potential bruising that may appear later
Quadriceps contusion (thigh contusion)
A dead leg, commonly referred to as a charley horse, results from a direct impact or trauma to the leg, leading to a bruise or contusion.
Symptoms may include:
- Immediate pain at the time of injury
- Restricted movement in the leg or muscle
- Potential swelling and the subsequent appearance of bruising
An acute, traumatic femur fracture is a serious and easily identifiable injury resulting from accidents or severe impacts.
- Severe pain in the thigh
- Deformity or noticeable leg shortening compared to the other leg
- Significant swelling
Rectus femoris tendon strain – upper thigh pain
These injuries cause pain at the top of the thigh or front of the hip, where the tendon of the rectus femoris muscle attaches. Differentiating between a tendon strain and an avulsion injury can be challenging. If you suspect a rectus femoris tendon injury, it is advisable to seek professional medical advice.
Gradual onset anterior thigh pain
The following injuries often develop gradually over time due to overuse or result from an acute injury that hasn’t fully healed.
Myositis ossificans can develop as a complication of improper treatment for a contusion, resulting in the formation of bone within the muscle.
- Muscle pain, especially during exercise
- Limited range of motion
- Presence of a deep, hard lump in the muscle
Diagnosis can be confirmed through an X-ray, which reveals any bone growth.
Femur Stress Fracture
Prolonged overuse of the femur bone, the long thigh bone, can lead to a stress fracture called a femoral stress fracture.
- Gradually developing pain as a dull ache
- Increased pain when applying bending force to the femur
Upper thigh pain
The following injuries result in gradually developing pain at the front top of the thigh.
Rectus femoris tendon inflammation/tendinopathy
This leads to gradual onset pain at the front of the hip, where the Rectus femoris tendon attaches to the pelvis. It can occur due to overuse or as a result of an insufficiently healed tendon strain or rupture.
Other causes of anterior thigh pain which should not be missed:
Although not prevalent, it is crucial not to overlook the following injuries and conditions when experiencing pain in the front of the thigh.
Slipped capital femoral epiphysis
This injury occurs when the upper end of the bone, where the bone growth plates are located (epiphysis), slips away from the rest of the bone. It typically develops gradually over time and is more prevalent in boys aged 11 to 16 years old.
Perthes’ disease primarily affects children, typically between the ages of four and eight, although it can occur in younger children and teenagers as well.
- Thigh, groin, or knee ache
- Noticeable limp
- Early medical diagnosis is essential to mitigate potential future complications and limitations.
This condition occurs when the muscle experiences increased pressure, which compromises both the blood supply and nerve supply.
Tumours can also cause front thigh pain.