Don’t Ignore Your Sports Hernia

Athletes who play contact sports that involve running, jumping, and sudden direction changes will surely encounter injuries from time to time. Statistics back this up, with over 3.5 million sports injuries at all levels occurring yearly. Addressing injuries early, with medication, surgery, or physical therapy (PT), is essential for the athlete to return to sports as quickly as possible. Sports hernias are a common injury, occurring in sports like football, basketball, and soccer. While some cases are mild, others are more severe, requiring surgical intervention. The faster a sports hernia is identified and treated, the sooner the athlete can return to playing the game.


Understanding hernias

Sports hernias are strains or soft tissue tears in the oblique or lower abdomen, particularly near the groin. Also called athletic pubalgia, the tendons, muscles, or ligaments that attach the thigh to the pubic bone are compromised. Sports hernias are often confused with traditional inguinal hernias. These hernias create a space in the abdominal wall, causing the intestine or other tissues to protrude. Inguinal hernias often result in a large, painful bulge. Sports hernias are not visible but are equally painful and concerning. The injury occurs due to a sudden twist or change in direction, typical in hockey, football, basketball, or soccer. Differentiating between sports hernias and traditional hernias can help with prompt treatment.

Do I need surgery?

Like most muscle tears, sports hernias can range from mild to severe. The goal is to see a doctor immediately, especially if symptoms like pain persist. If left untreated, sports hernias can worsen, turning into inguinal hernias. A doctor can perform a physical exam and imaging tests to determine if surgery is necessary. In many cases, rest, pain medication, and PT are enough to allow the injury to heal. If needed, sports hernia surgery involves making a small incision near the groin to repair the torn muscle or ligament. In some cases, the surgeon will cut the inguinal nerve to relieve chronic pain. Thanks to minimally invasive surgery (MIS), patients will experience a shorter downtime, smaller incisions, and improved results. Here are 3 common symptoms that indicate the need for orthopedic surgery.

1. Look out for chronic pain

The first sign of a sports hernia is often pain in the groin area. The athlete may feel a tear after an abnormal movement or collision during sports or training. The pain can be acute, coming and going occasionally. The pain is in the lower abdominal or groin area, usually on the right or left side of the genitals. This type of injury responds well to rest and physical therapy. However, the hernia may be more severe if the pain is chronic and persistent, especially at rest. Chronic pain is often a sign that orthopedic surgery is necessary to address the underlying injury.

2. Severe discomfort on the field

Some athletes notice that the pain subsides with rest, medication, and PT. However, in some cases, the pain resumes immediately with physical activity. Athletes may notice a lack of power or explosiveness. Changes in direction, general agility, acceleration, and deceleration are significantly limited. The core muscles can also produce pain when lifting or jumping. The groin pain can dramatically impact training and performance. In this scenario, surgery is the best option to regain full strength as quickly as possible. Surgically treating the injury limits further damage and improves the athlete’s physical abilities.

3. Swelling and tenderness

Common symptoms of a sports hernia can include swelling and tenderness. While there is not a prominent bulge in the case of inguinal hernias, there can still be fullness or bloating in this area. The area can feel tender or sensitive to the touch. Additional throbbing can indicate inflammation and underlying soft tissue damage. If the swelling worsens, the athlete may need to return to the doctor for further evaluation. At this point, PT and pain medication may not be enough. Surgery can help address the underlying damage and improve long-term performance.

Get treated, get back to your sport

Sports hernias can cause pain and discomfort in the groin area, making even the simplest movements painful. The damage in the lower abdomen and groin area prevents athletes from performing at a high level. Some cases require a few weeks of rest and PT, while more severe hernias require surgery to repair the underlying damage. Athletes should not delay or ignore the symptoms of a possible hernia, as prompt surgical treatment helps with a faster return to sport.

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