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Effective Exercises for Thigh Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT September 29, 2021 0 Comments

senior thigh stretching

When it comes to thigh pain, regardless of the cause, location, or severity, most people will experience pain, stiffness, swelling, and trouble completing normal daily activities. Performing the right exercises for thigh pain can help relieve these symptoms and help prevent further injury. Keep scrolling to find useful stretches and exercises that target each region of your thigh muscles. 

Best Exercises for Thigh Pain

What exercise is best for your thigh pain will depend on where you are experiencing pain. If your pain is severe, hard to pinpoint with palpation, or you can’t seem to find a position that gives you relief, it’s best to talk to your doctor first to rule out more serious issues like spine cord compression, nerve damage, fracture, or cancer.

Inner Thigh Exercises

The inner thigh gets sores most often from a strain of the groin muscles, also known as the hip adductors. This is typical with high impact activities, aging, sports, hip weakness, or lack of a warm up.

Supine Adductor Stretch with Strap

This is a simple inner thigh stretching exercise can be a great pain and stiffness reliever for groin pain. While there are many different postures you can assume to stretch the groin, the use of a stretch strap while lying on your back is a great way to feel supported.

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Grab your stretch strap and place it around the ball of the foot of the leg you want to stretch, hold the strap with the opposite hand
  • First, straighten the knee toward the ceiling, adjusting the angle as needed if your hamstrings are too tight
  • Then, let the leg fall out toward the side toward the floor as far as possible, with the inner thigh facing up toward the ceiling
  • Support your leg with the strap, moving until you feel a strong inner thigh stretch
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets

Alternatives, you can try sitting in a butterfly stretch or getting into a standing side lunge.

Side-Lying Hip Adduction

This strengthening exercise looks simple but can be difficult when dealing with inner thigh pain. Always start gently and assess how it feels before increasing difficulty.

  • Lie on your side with the leg you want to exercise on the bottom
  • Bend and rotate the top hip and knee so that you can place your foot flat on the ground in front of the knee of the thigh that’s still touching the ground
  • Keep your hips stacked and knee straight as you tense up the inner thigh as you start to lift your lower leg straight up toward the ceiling
  • Hold for 2-3 seconds, going as high as you can tolerate, before slowly returning to the floor
  • Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets

Other potential options include side lunges, standing hip adduction with a loop resistance band, or single leg balance.

Outer Thigh Exercises

When dealing with pain of the outer thigh, there are two primary areas that tend to be the culprit: the hip abductors (the side of the glutes) and the strong fibrous iliotibial band (ITB) that runs down the entire side of the leg. Pain in these areas can aggravate hip pain or hip bursitis too.

Seated Figure Four Stretch

 

You can do this hip stretch anywhere you can sit in a chair, whether it’s at work or sitting at home. You can play with the exact position of your leg to be able to stretch affected areas in your outer thigh, as it will vary with each individual.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair near the edge and with good posture
  • Decide which hip you are going to stretch, and bring the ankle of that leg up toward the opposite knee
  • Rest the outside edge of your ankle on your opposite thigh near the knee 
  • Let the top knee fall down toward the floor as far as you can tolerate
  • Then, gently lean forward (keeping the spine straight) until you feel a stretch deep in the butt, aka the piriformis muscle 
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg

If your pain is coming more from the ITB, you can try bringing the knee across the body toward the opposite side of your chest instead to get a stretch in the side of the thigh. You can also complete this stretch lying down.  

Lateral Leg Raise

 

This is another calisthenic mat exercise that looks deceptively easy. However, when you focu on the smaller side hip muscles, you should notice a quick muscle burn. Use your symptoms to dictate how many reps and how high to lift your leg.

  • Lie on your side with the hip you want to exercise on top
  • Bend the bottom knee and hip for stability so that you lift the top leg without wobbling
  • Keep up the upper leg straight and in line with your trunk
  • Tighten your abs to promote hip stability as you lift the entire leg straight up toward the ceiling
  • Lift as high as is comfortable before returning to the starting position
  • Keep the move slow and controlled in both directions
  • Keep the knee and toes pointing straight forward and hip in neutral (avoid flexion), do not let them point up toward the ceiling
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets

Upper Thigh Exercises

The upper thigh is where a lot of large muscle groups cross between the thigh bone (femur) and pelvis to provide stability to the entire core and trunk. The big muscle groups that we are most concerned with when dealing with upper thigh pain are the hip flexors. When these muscles get tight and painful, they can lead to imbalances in the low back to, so appropriate exercise is important. 

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

 

A gentle stretch for the hip flexors can relieve both upper thigh pain and lower back pain. It’s important to complete this stretch while keeping the low back in neutral (avoid extension).

  • Start in standing by getting into a lunge position, with the hip you want to stretch in the back
  • Then, let your back knee rest on the ground, using a pillow or rolled towel as needed for comfort
  • Make sure the front hip and knees are bent to approximately 90 degrees with the knee staying behind the toes
  • Next, shift your weight forward into the front foot as you further extend the back hip
  • Shift until a strong stretch if felt and hold
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets total

Alternatively, you can also try a standing lunge if you have knee problems or feel more comfortable in this position.

Balance Pad Marching

 

Marching in place is a simple way to get blood flowing to the hip flexors. Plus, you can focus on coordinating good core control to minimize strain to the hip flexors with other movements too.

  • Stand with the feet hip width apart, if you want to challenge your balance try stepping up on a balance foam pad 
  • Alternate shifting your weight into one leg while lifting the other, bending the knee and bringing the thigh up toward the ceiling
  • How high you will lift your leg depends on your symptoms
  • Repeat and alternate for 10-15 repetitions on each leg 
  • Continue for 2-3 sets total

Front of Thigh Exercises

Front thigh pain is most often caused by a muscle strain in the large quadriceps muscles that run along the entire thigh. Quad pain can be caused by high impact activities, kicking sports, aging, and general weakness as well.

Prone Quad Stretch with Strap

This is an effective quad stretch because lying on your stomach helps prevent excessive arch in the low back, which can minimize the efficacy of the stretch. If you have a hard time tolerating lying on your stomach, you can also try this stretch in standing or even kneeling.

  • Lie on the on your stomach with the stretch strap wrapped around the foot of the leg you will be stretching
  • Hold the ends of the strap with your hand on the same side
  • Get in a neutral position with the whole body, with your head facing forward and down toward the floor
  • Start to bend the knee, using the strap to guide the movement and provide overpressure
  • Stop when you feel a strong stretch in the front of the thigh, making sure you aren’t rotating or arching your low back
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets total

Squats

A squat is a great functional and multidimensional exercise for the thighs that only requires your bodyweight to get started. While it works the quads in the front of the thigh, it also requires core strength, full leg stability, balance and coordination.

  • Stand with the feet hip width apart and pointed slightly outward
  • Tighten the core and make sure your weight is evenly distributed between (and within) your feet as you start to bring your butt closer to the ground
  • As you bend your hips and knees, keep your weight back in the heels of your feet and the trunk upright
  • Keep the knees behind the toes as you bend them as far as possible, stopping at 90 degrees if you get there
  • Move slowly up and down for 10-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets total 

Back of Thigh Exercises

The back of your thigh most often gets sore when the hamstrings are strained. Keeping the area strong and limber with these basic exercises is an effective way to manage back of thigh pain and prevent future issues. 

Seated Hamstring Stretch

There are many different positions that you can stretch the hamstring in. One of the easiest ways to stretch the back of the thigh is sitting in a chair or on the edge of your bed.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with good upper body posture
  • Straighten the leg you want to stretch out in front of you, resting the heel on the ground with the toes up toward the ceiling and knee straight
  • Start to gently shift your weight forward while keeping the spine straight
  • Continue shifting until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg
  • Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg

Alternatively, you can try to touch your toes in standing or lie on your back with a stretching strap or towel.

Standing Hip Extension with Loop Band

Hip extension requires coordination of the abdominal, glutes, and hamstrings. While the movement should primarily come from the glutes, the hamstrings do help. Making sure that you are properly coordinating hip extension, with the glutes being the primary leg movers, will help to heal and minimize strain to the back of the thigh.

  • Stand near a chair or wall for balance if needed
  • Wrap a loop band around your legs just above your ankles 
  • Tighten the abs and keep an upright posture before starting to move
  • Shift your weight into the right leg first
  • Then, lift your left leg so that the foot clears the ground and extend your leg straight back
  • Avoid arching the low back or leaning forward (keeping the back straight), focusing on tightening the glutes; if needed reduce your range of motion
  • Switch to the other leg when ready and repeat
  • Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets on each leg

How to Maximize Your Thigh Pain Recovery

Getting adequate pain relief from your thigh pain all starts with understanding what is causing it. From there, you can choose appropriate exercises to boost your recovery potential. Additionally, keep these tips in mind to maximize your recovery from thigh pain.

  • Talk to your doctor about your thigh pain concerns to figure out the true cause
  • Consider scheduling a round of physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you design a personalized program that promotes healing and prevents future issues caused by poor movement patterns
  • Watch out for symptoms that indicate you need further medical advice because the source of the pain may be more sinister; this includes neurological symptoms caused by nerve damage (tingling, numbness, sudden weakness, sharp pain, and loss of bowel and bladder control), night pain, severe pain, etc.
  • Pair your exercises with other treatment modalities for leg pain such as ice, heat, and TENs

    Thigh Pain Treatments

Finding Relief with Stretches & Exercises

With the right exercises, you will be on the road to recovery with thigh pain in no time. Finding the correct balance of stretching and strengthening will increase blood flow for healing, boost flexibility, and decrease risk of future issues. Just determine your problem area in the thigh first and make a plan from there. If you are unsure of where to start or experience a change in symptoms, talk about your doctor or physical therapist for further medical advice.

Sources:

https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/exercises/exercises-for-thigh-problems

https://www.verywellhealth.com/thigh-pain-causes-treatment-4174433

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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