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Femoral Nerve

Upper leg pain

(Keywords: FEMORAL NERVE, femoral neuritis, lower back and leg pain, upper leg pain, groin pain, Maignes syndrome, Meralgia paresthetica)

This is not a highly academic dissertation on neuroanatomy  but rather how the mid and upper lumbar spine relates to Chiropractic Help practice.

The upper lumbar plexus supplies five major nerves and some smaller ones, all of which overlap giving off small branches which connect with each other, making the precise diagnosis of the pain patterns difficult. Fortunately, in chiropractic practice, it's not usually necessary to make a decision whether the entrapment is of the femoral nerve or the ilio inguinal nerve, for example. Medicine does it by injecting nerve blocks - if the pain stops, then it must have been the xxx nerve.

  1. Ilio hypogastric nerve (T12-L1)
  2. Ilio inguinal nerve (T12-L1)
  3. Genito femoral nerve (L1-L2)
  4. Lateral Femoral Cutaneous nerve (L2-4)
  5. Femoral nerve (L2-L3-L4)


Femoral nerve (L2-L3-L4)

The Femoral nerve is the first of TWO large nerves that supply the leg, the other being the sciatic nerve.

The Femoral nerve emerges from the mid-upper lumbar spine, whereas the Sciatic nerve emerges from the lower lumbar spine.

Both course down just in front of the spine, through the pelvis, but the Sciatic nerve emerges through the sciatic foramen, passing into the buttock and the back of the thigh and calf, and the outer side of the lower leg and the foot.

But the Femoral nerve passes through the groin supplying the

  • SENSORY innervation to the skin of the upper anterior thigh (front of the leg), the distal medial thigh, the knee joint and sometimes the medial (inner) lower leg.
  • MOTOR innervation to the Quadriceps and Ilio-psoas muscles. The patellar tendon reflex gives an important measure of the integrity of the Femoral nerve.

Femoral nerve entrapment

The femoral nerve is very long, stretching from the mid to upper lumbar spine L2 to L4, to the foot and can be trapped and injured anywhere along its course.

Because it is a mixed nerve, injury to the femoral nerve can cause both sensory disturbance, including pain, and motor weakness of the quadriceps and ilio psoas muscle. Consequently, a marked limp is a feature of the condition. Stairs may become difficult and dangerous.

That limp upsets the kinetic chain causing other problems, perhaps disturbing the balance mechanism in the inner ear, or provoking an otherwise silent hip arthritis or capsulities and other seemingly unrelated conditions.



An aside from the chiropractic coalface; diabetes has a predilection for the quadriceps muscle. Remembering that approximately half of diabetics are walking the streets undiagnosed, non painful  weakness of the quadriceps muscle, particularly if associated with the typical diabetes symptoms of thirst, weight loss and inability to gain an erection, always calls for a blood sugar test.

More typically the femoral nerve patient presents with pain around the buttock, front or side of the thigh, around the knee, often sensory disturbance, early on increased sensation, later numbness and, in more serious cases, loss of the knee jerk reflex and weakness of hip flexion and knee extension. The knee gives. Stairs become difficult.

Weakness of the quadriceps and iliopsoas causes a marked limp.

Both a slipped disc in the mid lumbar region, and a facet syndrome may cause severe back pain and radiating pain to the anterior thigh and sometimes lower inner leg.


Causes of entrapment 

  • Lumbar spine pathology 


When the quadriceps muscle is affected, you may find that the knee gives or buckles. People may remark that you are limping badly. Your chiropractor will find a diminished or absent knee jerk reflex. You can yourself test the muscles in the leg by following the simple instructions in the above video.

Notice the blue, sensory and red, motor, nerves to the quadriceps muscle.


  • ABDOMINAL ABSCESS, TUMOURS AND TRAUMA, MEDICAL PROCEDURES and other...
  • Iatrogenic Illness. doctor caused disease

Very occasionally, an abscess, such as in TB, abdominal tumours and a sudden bleed by patients on anticoagulants may physically press on the Femoral-nerve causing pain and weakness in the thigh.

An aside: Always there's a trade off between the benefits of treatment, and that includes chiropractic help, and the potential noxious side effects. Today I heard that a patient aged 83 couldn't come for treatment; anti coagultant therapy caused a nosebleed so bad that she's been hospitalised. And last month a very special favourite patient, yes, all doctors have favourites! went in for routine laser treatment for an eye condition. The surgeon didn't ask what drugs she was on; the anti coagulants for a minor heart condition caused a bleed behind the retina, and now she's permanently blind in one eye. Only 55 years old.


Needle puncture procedures, abdominal and inguinal surgery, total hip replacement, harvesting of bone chips from the ilium, a difficult childbirth, pelvic fractures, cancer radiation and other trauma to the groin, knife wounds, for example, and pelvis and upper leg all can occasionally injure the femoral nerve.

Obviously patients with a gunshot wound will not present at a chiropractic clinic, but through the years I have had patients with a femoral neuritis caused by diabetes, after pelvic surgery, after total hip replacement, after radiation to the bladder, as well as the typical lower back conditions that can and do cause pain and weakness in the distribution of the Femoral nerve.

Clearly, a thorough case history and examination is vital in all cases of groin and anterior thigh pain.

Hip arthritis too, also typically causes groin pain radiating down the anterior leg to the knee, but with very different signs so that the astute clinician would have no difficulty making the differential diagnosis.


INTERESTING RESEARCH Clin Orth 75 May

Of 455 patient treated surgically for lower back and leg pain, 10% were found to have syndromes affecting the femoral nerve, and 90% the sciatic nerve.  Ask any chiropractor, nine out of ten cases involve the lower two discs and the sciatic nerve.

Herein lies a danger; the mid an upper lumbar spine is often overlooked as a cause of leg pain.

Interestingly, those with femoral nerve conditions were on average more than ten years older than the sciatic nerve group.

The reason? The femoral nerve group, the older group, had lesions of the facet joint associated with aging and arthritis, rather than disc injuries, which were more common in the younger sciatic nerve group.

Notice that the foramen from which the nerve emerges is bounded anteriorally by the disc on the right and the facet joint posteriorally, left. Both disc and facets can impinge on the nerve roots.


The researcher, Hazlett JW, reported:

  1. "The higher level of the lesion the greater the incidence of apophyseal (facet) joint arthritis which may be associated with the aging process."
  2. "The femoral distribution of pain may lead to difficulties in differential diagnosis between a spinal origin and a hip or knee origin of the problem." Hip conditions too typically cause pain in the groin radiating towards the knee.
  3. "Radiculopathy causing femoral pain may be the result of both disk degeneration with protrusion and apophyseal (facet) arthritis with synovitis." A meniscus-type entrapment.
  4. "Neuritis of the L4 nerve root is more commonly the result of a lesion at the L4-5 nerve root foramen than centrally at the L3-4 disk level." The far lateral disc herniation ...
  5. "The syndrome of low back pain with femoral neuritis is NOT UNCOMMON five or more years after an otherwise successful L4-L5-S1, two-level spine fusion."

Point number 4 above is vital for the Chiropractic physician. A facet syndrome at L3-L4 will affect the L4 nerve root, but the not uncommon far lateral disc lesion at L3-L4 may cause a L3 radiation. Successful treatment is predicated on making the correct diagnosis and treating the correct level.

CHIROPRACTIC HELP

Like Carpal tunnel Syndrome, Femoral-nerve neuritis is frequently a "double-crush" syndrome, with the nerve being irritated both in the lumbar spine AND the groin, usually distal to the inguinal ligament.

Successful outcomes may be dependent on BOTH sites of impingement being addressed. In short, is your chiropractor also busy in the groin/ upper thigh?


Meralgia paresthetica 

Meralgia Paresthetica is a neuritis affecting the purely sensory lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, again with an impingement in the upper lumbar spine and the groin. It responds well to chiropractic help that is directed at both the spine and the groin.

The quadriceps muscle and the knee jerk are not affected. The numbness, tingling or pain is down the side of the upper leg, and sometimes in the groin too but no motor weakness.



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The ilioinguinal nerve supplies in the female the labia and the medial upper thigh/ groin. In the male the scrotum and allied region.

A facet injury at the thoraco lumbar junction can cause pain in the groin and scrotal areas, as well as a maignes syndrome. Once again, addressing both the spinal lesion and an entrapment in the groin as the ilio inguinal nerve passes into the inguinal canal may be important. Treatment should be limited to a maximum of three sweeps across the adductor, hip flexor muscles and the capsule. It's extremely painful, and may leave bruising. Care must be taken when crossing the femoral artery.

Buttock pain is also a feature of Maignes syndrome ...


FEMORAL NERVE CaseFile

Every day there is an interesting Femoral nerve casefile walking into the clinic. Lower back and leg pain, upper leg pain, groin pain, Maignes syndrome, Meralgia paresthetica, you name it, every day they present at the Chiropractic Coalface.



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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr B  came initially for a painful and stiff neck and then asked whether chiropractic could help the cold numb feeling running down the side of his thigh for six months. Meralgia paresthetica is a double crush syndrome with the nerve affected in the back and groin. He's 80% improved after five treatments.

2. Mrs C has a long history of severe, disabling migraine headaches since having her wisdom teeth removed. She clenches her teeth at night. After six treatments she has no migraines but some jaw joint discomfort remains; a bite plate is in the offing.

3. Mrs U has the trophy for the worst back this year. After major surgery with plates and screws two years later she still had paresis in the lower leg and severe disabling back pain. She's doing far better than expected, in no little part due to a lift in her shoe for a very short leg.

4. Mr V is 86 years old and hurt his back helping his wife into the car. Just one treatment of the sacroiliac joint and he's eighty percent better. It's not always like that.

5. Mr W lay on his back knocking down a pillar. Turning his head causes severe vertigo. He needs the Epley exercises, not pills, research shows. Update, he's fine.

6. Mrs X, a young mother has severe lower back pain, with numbness down the posterior thigh, calf and side of her foot. It started after a long drive in the car. After six treatments she is 60 percent better, but it's slow and is going to take the full 6 weeks to heal.

And now a setback, after lifting her child she now has leg pain. It's going to the be difficult.

7. This lady is a 70 year old woman, is on maintenance care for a nasty lumbar stenosis despite having to do everything at home. Her husband has a hospital acquired infection after a total shoulder replacement. After four operations he is incapacitated.

8. She is an 78 year old woman, is doing remarkably well with a bad sciatica. But over 200 pounds she is not losing weight; in fact, gaining despite my suggestions. She's high risk for a stroke. I have referred her to a dietician to crack the whip.

9. This man is a 73 year old engineer, still working, is doing fine after a long episode of lower back pain. Some pain on the side of the hip remains after five treatments. I reassured him it's not hip arthritis.

10. A 64 year old woman has had scheuermanns disease; it's left her with a spinal kyphosis and chronic middorsal pain. She responds well to chiropractic treatment provides she come every six weeks or so for maintenance treatment.

11. Mr C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mrs D, a middle aged woman with hip pain of one year duration, despite other treatment. Xrays reveal an impingement syndrome and early hip arthritis. There's much to be done.

13. Both Mrs E and I can't believe how much better her lower back and leg pain are. Surgery for a scoliosis and spondylolysthesis three years ago helped greatly for one year. But then her leg went lame and weak. He was responded extremely well despite all expectations.

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.



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