5 Steps to Treating Groin Pain and Injury in Athletes

A groin pull is a common injury to the muscles of the inner thigh. The muscles themselves, known as the adductors, consist of six muscles that run from the inner pelvis to the inner thigh bone (femur). If these muscles are stretched beyond their limits, it can cause a strain.

Less severe strains result in discomfort and inflammation but otherwise leaves the muscle intact. More severe strains tear the muscle itself, causing extreme pain and interfering with a person’s mobility and/or range of motion.

These injuries are common in athletes such as sprinters, soccer players, weightlifters, and football players who have to either run, dodge, squat, switch directions, or abnormally extend their stride. It can also happen to everyday athletes who fail to stretch or warm up properly before engaging in an activity.

When to See a Doctor About Groin Pain

An athlete will generally recognize a groin strain the moment it happens. If it is not severe, many will simply allow it the time to recover and do what they can to relieve any swelling. In more severe cases, where it interferes with the person’s ability to walk, stand, or sleep at night, the injury may require evaluation by a doctor.

In rare cases, a groin injury may result in a complete muscle rupture, a condition which may require surgery to reattach the torn ends. For the most part, however, even severe strains tend to respond well to non-operative treatment and rehabilitation; surgery is always considered a last resort.

If you experience a groin strain and are able to manage, albeit, with a little discomfort, there are five steps you should take to speed recovery and minimize complications:

1
Stop Everything and Rest

Young woman athlete resting
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'No pain, no gain' is simply bad advice. Pain is a warning sign that something is wrong. It could be a red flag signaling you to cool it a little or an indication of something more serious. If there is a strain, you will generally know it. Doctors tend to grade these injuries as follows:

  • Grade I: a mild injury with minimal to no disability
  • Grade II: a moderate injury interfering with big movement such as running or jumping
  • Grade III: a severe injury interfering with walking and accompanied by pain, swelling, bruising, and even spasms

The moment you experience a groin pain during exercise, stop. If it is causing nagging aches or soreness in the groin, back off and let it rest a little.

If, on the other hand, there is acute pain, stop everything, sit down, and use the RICE method to stabilize the injury. The RICE method is one of the most recommended forms of first aid and involves four components: rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injury.

2
Apply Ice to the Injury

Ice on left knee joint
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Once you've stopped the activity, either sit or lie down. Applying ice to the injury will help reduce swelling and slow the rush of blood which can further aggravate the inflammation and bruising.

If you don't have a cold pack but are near a kitchen, grab a frozen bag of peas or fill a plastic bag with ice. Don't make a common icing mistake and apply the pack directly to the skin. Rather, cover the ice pack with fabric or paper towels to prevent frostbite.

You should keep the ice on the injury no longer than 15 to 20 minutes max. A good rule of thumb is to ice the area for 15 minutes every hour for the first day. After that, reapply when needed to help alleviate pain and swelling.

If the swelling hasn't come down after three days, see a doctor.

3
Use a Compression Wrap to Minimize Swelling

Woman wrapping bandage around knee
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Applying an elastic compression wrap can help reduce pain and keep the swelling down. You can find elastic bandages or special pre-cut groin tape easily at most local drug stores.

After applying the ice to the injury, wrap the thigh firmly and continue to ice through the bandage or tape. Do not wrap it too tightly as this can cause swelling beneath the injury itself. You will know if it is too tight when there is ​pain, a prickly sensation, numbness, or a coolness of the skin.

Compression wraps can also help stabilize the injury as you return to activity in about a week or so.

If you feel you still need a compression wrap after three days, it may be time to see a doctor and have the injury checked out.

4
Perform Gentle Stretching

female runner stretching leg in urban space.
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Gentle stretching can be started once the swelling has subsided and the pain is controlled, usually within a week or so. Start very slowly and gently increase the range of motion in the hip and thigh as you improve.

Be careful not to overstretch. Focus instead on letting gravity help you open the groin area. An exercise like a seated groin stretch (a.k.a. the butterfly stretch) provides a more stable foundation than a standing pose. Just sit there for two for four minutes initially without forcing anything or even moving. You'll be surprised at how much the groin will open if you just give it time. If there is every any pain, just stop. Don't push it.

As you get stronger and begin to regain flexibility, you can begin to expand into more extensive groin stretching exercises.

5
Return to Sports Slowly

Woman jogging at beach with smartwatch.
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After a groin injury, it's important to take your time before returning to sports. Starting too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or of developing chronic groin pain. If you do have a chronic or recurrent groin injury, make every effort to see a certified professional who specializes in sports injuries. These can include:​​

Source

Tyler, T.; Silvers, H.; Gerhardt, M.; et al. "Groin Injuries in Sports Medicine." Sports Health. 2010 May; 2(3): 231-236.

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