No matter what level athlete you currently are, it’s probably true that you’ve experienced the dreaded ache of a pulled groin. A pulled groin generally refers to a muscle strain in one or more of the inner thigh muscles. The five major muscles of the inner thigh function to move the legs medially (toward the middle of the body). This muscle group is important in activities such as sprinting, hurdling, soccer, hockey, and even horseback riding. A strain (which is a rupture or tear) of one or more of these muscles may cause a groin pull. Groin pulls most often occur during sprinting, twisting, or kicking.
The groin is the lower abdominal area near the pubic bone. Since there are several small muscles in this area, in addition to the bony connection between the hip bone and femur (long leg bone), it’s important to rule out what your groin pain is not. Other than a muscle strain, lower abdominal/inner thigh pain can be from a hernia, athletic pubalgia aka “sports hernia,” or osteitis pubis (more on those these below). If your condition is a slight strain, however, you can fix the issue with flexibility and strengthening exercises. Read on to find out more about groin injuries and try the four mobility exercises to prevent future damage.
How do I know that I pulled my groin?
In case you were wondering, the five major muscle groups of the inner thigh are the adductor longus adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis, and pectineus. An MRI can reveal any tears to these adducting muscles that move the leg toward the middle of the body (think one of those hip machines in the gym). Symptoms of a groin pull may be sudden or may not surface until the day after the injury. They include sharp pain in the inguinal (inner hip) region, swelling, bruising, or inability to contract the muscles. Inner thigh muscle strains are classified as first, second, or third degree.
A first or second degree strain is a partial tear, whereas a third degree tear is a complete tear of a muscle tissue and often requires surgery. A grade three tear will often be accompanied with an audible “pop” or “snap.” Whether it’s grade one, two, or three, these strains are acute injuries, caused by a sudden acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, or hip flexion/extension. Even if you didn’t tear a muscle, your groin area can still hurt, preventing you from working out or even walking. Here’s what else could be going on in your groin.
Other Groin Problems
If your groin injury feels a bit different or isn’t healing the same way previous injuries in the area did, you might have something else going on.
Osteitis pubis is a painful chronic bone condition that starts at the pubic symphysis—the middle of the pelvis bone. Muscle imbalances between the abdominal and inner thigh muscles are often the cause of the injury. Coupled with repetitive kicking or running, these muscle imbalances may eventually cause a gap between the two halves of the pelvis, which decreases stability and contributes to pain. An x-ray can reveal any damage to pubic symphysis and pelvis. Osteitis pubis doesn’t usually require surgery and can be treated with rest, physical therapy, and pharmacological therapies.
An actual hernia occurs when an organ or other body part pushes through the cavity it’s normally in and causes a visible bulge or lump. An inguinal hernia is when part of the intestine protrudes through the abdominal muscles. This injury is not a pulled groin and should be examined by a medical doctor. There’s another type of hernia—called an “athletic hernia” or “sports hernia”—that’s technically not a hernia since you can’t feel it on top of the pubic bone or anywhere.
Athletic hernias are chronic injuries that are revealed after you’ve tried pretty much every other recovery method. Again, hockey, football, soccer, running, and even tennis (due to its change of direction) can cause the condition. After groin pain is present for six to eight weeks during activity, you may fit into an athletic hernia diagnosis. The key with identifying athletic hernias is that the pain is only present during physical activity—it doesn’t hurt at rest, as a severely torn muscle would. Athletic hernias are generally described as a more “deep, diffuse” pain than a sharp, biting pain. Another indicator of an athletic hernia is pain during a resisted sit-up.
To do a resisted sit-up, lie on your back with knees bent at 90 degrees. Cross your arms across your chest. A partner will apply pressure with one hand to the shoulder of the side that has the groin pain. The partner’s other hand will apply pressure against the hip of the opposite side (the one without the pain). If this sit-up causes pain in either side near the inner thigh, you may have an athletic hernia.
How to Handle Groin Injuries
As with most strain injuries, treatment involves PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Protection and compression include wrapping the inner thigh with an ace bandage and applying kinesiology tape. After the injury is protected from further damage, ice should be applied immediately, and the injured part should be elevated and rested. If your minor groin pain lasts longer than two weeks, consult with a medical professional to determine if you have a grade two or three groin strain. If your grade three strain is bad enough, you’ll probably know based on bruising and almost complete lack of function, meaning that you’ll be unable to walk, rotate your leg, abduct or adduct your leg, or a combination of all of these.
Preventing inner thigh, hip, and leg muscle strains can be achieved by doing dynamic warmups/mobility drills prior to exercise or playing sports. Also, a proper cool-down with static stretches can help alleviate post-workout tightness and soreness. Try these four dynamic warmup exercises to keep your hips healthy for good.
Side to Side Leg Swing
How to do it: Stand tall facing a wall about one arm’s length away. Place palms against the wall. Swing your right leg to the side (keeping it straight) then swing it inward towards your left leg. Make sure that your abdominal muscles are engaged and your back is straight. Do eight reps on the right leg then switch sides and do another eight reps on the left leg. Do two to three sets total.
How to do it: Start in a straight arm plank (top of a push-up). Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand so that the heel is on the ground. Straighten your back; you should feel tension in the right hip flexors and inner thigh muscles. Hold for two to three seconds then step and back and switch legs, stepping the left heel outside of the left hand. Do five steps each side for two to three sets.
How to do it: Stand with abs tight and feet hip-width apart. Raise both arms towards the ceiling until they are completely straight. Both palms should be facing each other. Bend your hips backward, lower the glutes towards the floor, and bend the knees. Try not to tip your arms or torso forward. Do three sets of ten reps.
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a giant step to the right by raising your right leg, stepping it out towards the right and sinking the glutes. Both heels should be on the floor with toes pointing forward. Return the right leg to the start. Switch legs by stepping the left leg towards left then back in. Do ten reps each side for two to three sets.