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Here’s a question I get asked a lot around one design keel boat regattas where the crew hikes from behind life lines (as opposed to hiking out from foot straps dinghy style). I find it quite common in Sydney 38s and Farr 40’s where the crews hike very hard with the upper body extended from the lower life lines.
The pressure from the lifelines cause impingement of a sensory nerve, most likely the Lateral Femoral Cutaneous nerve of the thigh. This nerve is a sensory nerve, which means it supplies sensations back to the brain via the central nervous system. It runs from the spine around the abdomen and down the outside of the thigh. This condition is known as Meralgia Parasthetica. Big scary words but what does this mean?
It’s cause by pressure over the nerve, particularly where it passes under the inguinal ligament, just below the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) the bony prominence on the front of your hip bone.
If there’s a lot of pressure being put through that area it compresses the nerve and results in pain or loss of feeling on the outer side of the thigh, occasionally extending to the outer side of the knee, with people often describing a burning sensation, tingling, or numbness in the same area. Other people often note pins and needle like feelings extending down towards the feet. It is usually only on one side of the body and is more sensitive to light touch than to firm pressure. These symptoms are due to partial damage to the nerve and often gets worse as the day progresses. Not very pleasant!
How do we avoid this? The best treatment is to remove the cause of the compression by modifying your actions and position. The following may be helpful:
• Rest periods to interrupt long periods of aggravating activity- move around as much as you can during tacks and between races
• Weight loss in overweight individuals
• Core and trunk exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles
• Padding it up might be a good idea to relieve the pressure around the front of the hip
Basically you want to take off as much load as possible from just under the ASIS. Changing position slightly whilst hiking should also ease the feeling of numbness but this might be difficult to do at times!
It may take time for the pain to stop and, in some cases, numbness will persist. In severe cases a combination of local anaesthetic and non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be administered.
In persistent and severe cases, surgery may be needed to decompress the nerve but be aware this treatment could result in permanent numbness in the area.
I heard reports from crew members after the windy 2005 Farr 40 Worlds in Sydney that they had no feeling in their outer thighs for up to 4+ weeks following the event. This is not a good sign as it means the nerve ( a pretty major one) has stopped working for this period. Get it checked out by a good quality sports physiotherapist or doctor if symptoms persist.
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