Groin strain or sports hernia? | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Groin strain or sports hernia?

February 15, 2013

Doesn’t if feel great to get out there and play?  Whether it’s basketball, football, hockey, soccer or whatever sport you enjoy, it feels good to move like you used to.  Then one day, while you’re playing, you feel this sharp pain shoot into your groin, or down your leg.  What is going on?  It is a good possibility that you are experiencing a muscle strain.  Groin strains most commonly occur in the muscles on the inside of the leg, but the strain can also occur in the front of the hip or at the bottom of your abdomen.  Another condition that might feel like a groin strain but is something very different is a sports hernia.  So how do you tell the difference between a groin strain and a sports hernia?

Groin Strain

A groin strain will usually happen when performing a high speed movement involving the legs.  There will be a specific moment in which the strain will be felt.  The pain will be sharp and is usually felt in the groin, front of the hip or back of the hip.  Strains occur when the tension is too much for the muscle to handle.  The strain is the result of some tearing of the muscle and can be more or less severe.  Recovery time is very much dependent on severity of the strain.  The most common muscle group involved in groin strains are the adductor muscles.  This muscle group is made up of multiple muscles on the inside of your leg.  They help move your leg in and out.  They also help maintain your balance when you stand on one leg.  Other less common groin strains affect your hip or abdominal muscles.  Signs and symptoms can be different with each individual, but are commonly:

If you have a groin strain, or any other strain, it is good to put ice on the area.  This injury, if not properly treated, has a tendency for re-injury.  To ensure your best recovery, you should make an appointment with your doctor of physical therapy.  They will evaluate your injury, accelerate your recovery and ensure the safest, best recovery.  For more information on physical therapy services head to


Sports Hernia

A sports hernia injury happens with similar movements to that of a groin strain.  It generally occurs during high speed activities that involve twisting, or rotating the body, like fast changes in direction.  Soccer, basketball and football are all examples of sports that involve these motions.  Hockey players have a higher incidence of this injury due to their forward lean while skating.  The injury occurs at the base of the abdominal muscles.  In this area the muscles have formed down to a thin sheath and if weakness is present, an excessive force can result in a tearing of the tissue.  Contrary to its name a sports hernia occurs without a herniation or bulge in the area.  The signs and symptoms of a sports hernia include:

A sports hernia has a similar mechanism of injury and presentation to a groin strain.  It can often be difficult to distinguish between the two.  If you suspect you might have either of these injuries it is important to see your doctor of physical therapy.  They will perform a physical examination to help determine what your injury truly is.

Physical Therapy

When you arrive at physical therapy, the therapist will perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine what your diagnosis is.  They will use the information they gather through strength, range of motion and balance testing to find areas of limitations.  They will also palpate the injured areas.  Palpation simply means the therapist uses their hands to feel the immediate and surrounding areas to give them further information about your injury.   If your doctor of physical therapy does, in fact, determine that your injury is a groin strain they will develop a plan of care that is specific to you and your needs.

Early on physical therapy will focus on reducing pain, and promoting healing of the damaged area.  They will utilize moist heat to relax the tense tissues.  They will perform therapeutic massage to promote proper re-growth of the muscle.  Then you can either ice at therapy or at home to reduce the localized inflammation.  While attending physical therapy your therapist will monitor your progress and when appropriate will guide your gradual re-strengthening.  They are experienced in determining the appropriate level of activity to promote healing, without further damage.

As therapy progresses, you will begin to receive specific exercises based on your desired activity.  The goal will be that once you complete therapy you will be able to return to your desired sport.  You will also receive instructions on how to maintain your tissue strength so you can best prevent a re-injury.

If it is determined you have a sports hernia, your physical rehab will have similar goals to that of a groin strain, but will have a different approach.  Initially the therapist will try and relieve to pain, and promote proper healing to the injured area.  To accomplish this they may utilize modalities as well as tissue massage.  As they determine that your tissue are healing they will begin to reintroduce physical activities.  They will start with low load exercises to safely strengthen the abdominal muscles and tissues.  Then as your tissues continue to heal they will increase the tension applied to the tissues in a progressive way.  Therapy will also target strengthening of the hip muscles.  They, along with the core muscles, provide stability to the pelvis and connecting bones.  When your tissue strength returns and your injury is healed they will reintroduce dynamic, multi-movement exercises that will improve the tissue strength to tolerate the demands placed upon them during sporting events.  This is all designed to get you back to what you love doing.

For more information on physical therapy services head to