OrthoVirginia Blog

Groin Pulls/Strains in Athletes

Bruce Zimmer, MD, specializes in sports medicine and practices in our Springfield and Burke offices.

Football is the leading cause of school sports injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission more than 920,000 young people 18 and under are treated annually for football-related injuries in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics.

Football injuries are common and range from minor annoying aches and pains to serious, traumatic injuries. One common injury that often occurs in football and other sports that require a sudden change in direction while running and quick starts and stops is a groin pull or strain. 

Pain in the groin is often the result of a groin (adductor muscle) pull or strain. This is similar to any other type of pulled or strained muscle, but it occurs when the adductors (muscles in the inner thigh) are stretched beyond their limits. This can result in small muscle tears that cause pain and swelling. 

The adductors are fan-like muscles in the upper thigh that pull the legs together when they contract. They also help stabilize the hip joint. The adductors attach from the pelvis to the femur (thigh bone). 

The most common cause of groin pain is a muscle strain that causes localized pain in the inner thigh, or groin. A severe tear can cause a sudden, acute pain and may be accompanied by swelling and bruising. They are painful to the touch, and pain increases with resistance movements, and stretching of the inner thigh and hamstrings. 

Treating Groin Pain

For immediate relief of a groin pull, use the R.I.C.E. treatment method. Rest, ice, compression and elevation are the best immediate treatment for pulls and strains. 

Applying an elastic compression wrap to the groin can reduce pain from inflammation and keep the swelling down. After applying the ice to the injured area, wrap the thigh to keep it compressed during the ice application. Compression wraps also help reduce pain and re-injury as you return to activity in a week or two (when pain decreases enough to allow a return to activity). 

Once the swelling has subsided, gentle stretching can be started. Start very slowly and gently increase range of motion in the hip and inner thigh. Be careful to avoid forcing a stretch, or you risk re-injury to the area. A stretch should never cause pain. 

Take your time returning to sports. Starting back too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or developing a chronic groin pain. You should be pain free, have no swelling, and have full range-of-motion in the hip. You should have full or close to full strength, and are able to fully bear weight without limping. 

For more information about Dr. Zimmer, read his bio on our website.

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