What Is Sports Hernia?
A sports hernia is a painful, injury of the soft tissue that occurs in the groin area. It most often happens in people who play sports that require sudden changes of direction or intense twisting movements such as soccer, basketball, or wrestling .
Symptoms include severe pain, tenderness, and swelling in the groin area that appears immediately with an injury. The pain may improve with rest but flare up again with resumed activity. A visible bulge may or may not be present.
Treatment is necessary in order to return to sporting activities and to avoid chronic, disabling pain. You may receive non-surgical and surgical treatment depending on the severity of your injury.
You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. This condition should be promptly evaluated and treated with rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. Without treatment, this injury will result in chronic pain that could prevent you from returning to sports.
How common is sports hernia?
Symptoms that always occur with sports hernia:
- Groin pain
Symptoms that never occur with sports hernia:
- Groin lump
Sports hernia is also known as
- Athletic pubalgia
Sports Hernia Symptoms
A sports hernia usually causes severe pain, tenderness and swelling in the groin area immediately at the time of injury. The quality of the pain and other symptoms can evolve in the following manner:
- Resumes with activity: The pain can improve with rest but may return when you go back to your usual sports activity, especially if it involves twisting movements.
- No visible bulge may be present: However, over time a sports hernia may cause a bulge by weakening the soft tissues around it to form a visible bulge.
Without treatment, this injury can result in chronic, disabling pain that prevents you from resuming sports activities.
Sports Hernia Causes
The soft tissues most often affected by sports hernia are the oblique muscles in the lower abdomen.
Variance from an abdominal hernia
It is important to note that even though a sports hernia may lead to a traditional, abdominal hernia, it is a different injury. An abdominal hernia specifically occurs when parts of the intestine push through weakened parts of the abdominal wall to cause a bulge. A sports hernia is a strain or tear of any soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament) in the lower abdomen or groin area .
Because different tissues may be affected, and a traditional hernia may not exist, your physician may refer to your injury as an "athletic pubalgia." However, the general public and media  are more familiar with the term "sports hernia."
Structural causes in the lower abdomen
The tendons that attach the oblique muscles to the pubic bone are especially vulnerable to this type of injury. Furthermore, in many cases of sports hernias, the tendons that attach the thigh muscles to the pubic bone (known as adductors) can also be stretched or torn . See this image here for a visual representation of this anatomy.
Forceful, twisting movements
Anything that causes twisting of the lower abdomen or groin with maximum exertion can cause a tear in the soft tissues. Sports are the biggest culprit; however, any condition that results in this type of movement can result in a sports hernia such as motor vehicle accidents or trauma.
Treatment Options and Prevention for Sports Hernia
Treatment is focused on providing rest and stability to the soft-tissues of the lower abdomen in order to give them proper time to heal. Treatment can be divided into nonsurgical and surgical options.
Nonsurgical treatment outcomes are favorable on their own . Treatments include:
- Rest: The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) mnemonic is an often-used, easy to remember guide for treating a sports hernia. Try to lay down as much as possible. Put an ice pack over your lower abdomen every 15 minutes in order to reduce swelling. Elevation may be difficult, but try your best to keep the area raised while you rest. If you have a bulge in the groin, a compression wrap may help relieve some pain you are experiencing.
- Physical therapy: Your physician may prescribe physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore strength and flexibility in your abdominal muscles and inner thigh muscles.
- Pain management: Your physician may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (ibuprofen or naproxen) to reduce swelling and pain. If your symptoms persist over a prolonged period, your physician may suggest a cortisone injection, whichis a very effective steroid anti-inflammatory medicine.
However, if your pain continues or recurs when you go back to sports activities despite the above nonsurgical treatments, your physician may consider surgery to repair the injured tissues. Surgical treatment includes:
- Surgery types: A traditional, open procedure or a non-invasive, endoscopic procedure that allows the surgeon to see inside the abdomen may be performed . The end results of traditional and endoscopic procedures are the same. Your physician will discuss the details of the best surgical option for your specific needs.
- Surgical rehabilitation: Your physician will develop a rehabilitation plan to help you regain strength and endurance. Most athletes are able to return to sports six to 12 weeks after surgery .
- Additional surgery: In some cases of sports hernias, pain in the inner thigh continues even after the first surgical procedure. Your physician may suggest an additional surgery, called an adductor tenotomy, to address the continued pain . In this procedure, the tendon that attaches the inner thigh muscles to the pubis is cut. This causes the tendon to heal at a greater length, which releases tension and gives you a greater range of motion.
More than 90 percent of people who have a need for both nonsurgical treatment followed by surgery can return to normal sports activity relatively soon . However, in people that have tissue that re-tears, the surgical repair will need to be repeated with the adductor tenotomy.
When to Seek Further Consultation for Sports Hernia
Make an appointment with your physician as soon as you experience symptoms, especially if the pain recurs when you attempt to go back to physical activity.
If you have persistent pain after treatment
If you receive surgery and rehabilitation but continue to experience pain, make a prompt appointment with your doctor in order to get the appropriate follow-up.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask to Determine Sports Hernia
To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask about the following symptoms and risk factors.
- How long has your groin pain been going on?
- How would you explain the cause of your groin pain?
- Is your groin pain getting better or worse?
- Is your groin pain constant or come-and-go?
- How severe is your groin pain?
The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.
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- Larson CM. Sports hernia/athletic pubalgia. Sports Health. 2014;6(2):139-144. NCBI Link
- Hemiorrhaphy for athletic pubalgia (sports hernia). Ascension Columbia St. Mary's Hospital Milwaukee. Ascension Link
- Economopoulos KJ, Milewski MD, Hanks JB, Hart JM, Diduch DR. Sports hernia treatment. Sports Health. 2013;5(5):463-9. NCBI Link