Groin pulls are sports injuries that hurt. Whether you’re a male or a female athlete, you can tear muscles in your groin, and this injury can keep you out of the game for several weeks to six months or more, depending on the severity of the injury. You can do things to speed healing, and, even better, you can take action to prevent future groin strains. The following guide will show you how.
What is the Groin, and What Happens When It’s Injured?
The groin is an area of the body where the abdomen ends and the thigh begins. The groin is actually a muscle group; it’s comprised of five muscles that together are largely responsible for your ability to move your legs. The muscles are located in the inner thigh and run from the groin area to the inner side of the knee.
The five layered muscles that form the groin:
- Adductor brevis
- Adductor longus
- Adductor magnus
These inner thigh muscles pull the legs toward each other, toward the center of your body. This function plays an important role in your balance and helps stabilize the hip and knee joints.
The adductor longus in particular contributes to rotation of the hip and the leg’s ability to move inward and side to side. Any part of the groin can be injured, but this muscle is particularly vulnerable to strain (tearing or overstretching). When the adductor longus is strained, you will experience inner thigh pain when you extend your leg or sit down, and you’ll have difficulty walking.
How a Pulled Groin Happens: Causes of Groin Pulls
Two broad factors come into play regarding groin injuries: the condition of the athlete and the sport played. Both of these are risky causes of groin pulls.
Not allowing yourself time to warm up before practice, a game, or training on your own makes you more vulnerable to injury. When tendons and muscles, in this case the five muscles of the groin, are cold, they don’t work as well as when they’re warmed up. When they’re not functioning as they should, they’re at risk of muscle strain.
Other causes of groin injury that relate to your body include:
- taking a direct blow to the groin area
- sudden stress on the area
- stretching the muscles past their breaking point
- muscle tightness
Certain sports are high-risk sports regarding groin pulls. You increase your risk of a groin strain if you play or engage in
- ice hockey
- long jump
Because of the motions required of these sports, such as cutting, abrupt stopping and starting, extreme extension of the legs, and physical blows to the area, athletes in these sports are at higher risk for a pulled groin than are athletes in other sports.
Symptoms of a Pulled Groin
If you have a pulled groin muscle, you will feel pain. Pain is the primary symptom of a pulled groin and can range from mild to severe. With lesser pain, you can walk on your own; it is just sore. With severe pain, you might not be able to walk unassisted.
Other symptoms of groin injury include:
- A popping sensation the moment the injury occurs
- Tenderness in the area
- Muscle weakness, making leg movement more difficult
- Possible bruising
How Do You Know if You Pulled a Groin Muscle? Diagnosis of a Groin Strain
Because groin injuries in sports are so common, doctors and athletic trainers know what to look for. The biggest indicator used in diagnosing this injury is the set of symptoms you have as well as the location, nature and severity of your pain.
If your trainer recognizes this injury as a strained muscle in the groin area, and if your pain isn’t severe, a trip to the doctor may not be necessary. If, however, your pain is intense and movement is very restricted, seeing your doctor is a good idea.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination to check the movement of your leg, the feel of the muscles, and the specific location of the problem. If he or she suspects that the injury is to the hip, back, or abdomen instead of the groin or if it is a very severe tear of the groin, you might have an x-ray or an MRI to assess the damage.
When you receive your diagnosis, you’ll be given a number to indicate the severity, or grade, of your injury. Grade one groin injuries are mild, requiring about two weeks of recovery time. Grade two involves not just stretching but partial tearing of the muscles and needs a recovery time of approximately one- to two months. Finally, grade three injuries are complete tears and require several months of healing time.
Groin Injury Treatment and Prevention
While in some grade three injuries surgery is needed, the vast majority of groin injuries are treated at home. Sometimes, physical therapy is used to help athletes regain their strength and range of motion.
The most common treatment for groin pulls is the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest the area by avoiding too much movement and pressure
- Ice off and on, 20 minutes at a time, for one-three days, until swelling diminishes
- Compress the groin with a special bandage such as an ACE wrap
- Elevate your leg above your heart when you’re resting until the swelling is reduced
Taking over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen will reduce pain and swelling.
Stretching exercises are one of the most important factors in both healing a pulled groin and preventing another injury. Two types of stretching, and specific groin stretches, are good for conditioning groin muscles: static stretches, or those that you hold for an amount of time, and dynamic stretches, or those that mimic athletic motion.
Both types of stretching strengthen all of the adductor muscles of the groin, helping you move your leg inward. The groin doesn’t have an abductor muscle, a muscle that moves the leg out, away from the core. Stretches of the inner thigh increase your ability to move your legs together and to balance.
Groin stretches help muscles recover from strains, and they prevent re-injury as well. Stretching before and after training and games is vital for strength, endurance, performance, flexibility, and health. Remember to always follow your doctor’s guidelines for groin stretches, and listen to your body. Pain means stop.
Groin injuries are a painful nuisance, but they don’t have to ruin your sports life.