As the name indicates, a sports hernia is not exactly a type of hernia. It is a soft tissue injury that usually happens to a tendon or muscle in the lower abdomen or groin while playing certain high-impact sports like football, hockey, or rugby.
Experts call it athletic pubalgia, which refers to pain in the pubis (front pelvic) area. Though sports hernias are more commonly observed in athletes, they can happen to anyone. It commonly occurs while playing high-impact sports that require sudden direction changes or intense twisting movements.
Sports hernias can occasionally develop into conventional inguinal hernias, but they are two distinct conditions.
Inguinal hernia — It is a common hernia type that develops in the groin area when a part of the intestine pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall, creating a painful bulge.
Sports hernia — it is not a hernia and is defined as the strain or tear of any soft tissue in the groin area.
Who is at risk of sports hernias?
People who play sports that require repetitive, forceful movements, particularly twisting pelvis, are at risk of sports hernia. These movements can sometimes result in a tear in any of the muscles, tendons, or ligaments in the lower abdomen or groin area. In the sports listed below, there is a higher risk of developing a sports hernia:
- Ice hockey
Every year, around 5% of athletes, especially men aged between 26 and 28 years, most commonly experience sports hernias. Older people and children rarely experience sports hernias.
Causes of a sports hernia (athletic pubalgia)
As discussed above, athletic pubalgia is an injury that happens to the tendons and muscles in the deep layers of the lower abdominal wall or pelvis when they weaken or tear. The following situations can cause or contribute to a sports hernia:
- Hip movements that are repetitive and forceful, such as twisting, kicking, sliding, and jumping.
- Doing strenuous and unsafe exercises that involve your abdominal and hip areas.
- Weak abdominal muscles and a lack of technique while playing sports
- Your hip and abdominal muscles might not be equally strong enough
Females can also suffer from sports hernias, but they are less common.
Symptoms of a sports hernia
Pain is the main symptom of a sports hernia. It occurs in the lower abdomen or groin area. A sports hernia is more particularly related to the descriptions and pain scenarios below:
- As soon as the injury happens, you may feel a sharp, sudden pain.
- The pain is persistent and can be dull or burning.
- It is hard to find the exact location of pain in the lower abdomen and groin.
- Pain can sometimes travel down into your scrotum and/or inner thigh.
- You will experience pain, particularly when you perform activities like sprinting, twisting, kicking, or sitting up straight.
- When you cough or sneeze, you will experience pain in your groin area.
- Pain will restrict you from playing sports or other physical activities.
- When you rest, pain may go away, but when you are active physically, it comes back.
Diagnosing sports hernia
Diagnosing sports hernias is quite hard because many other conditions can also cause pain in the groin area, like osteoarthrosis of the hip joint, pain in the rectal or testicular area, or pelvis fractures. In addition, injury to the leg can also cause pain in the groin area, which is known as referred pain. This is because many nerves from the groin area extend to various body parts.
However, doctors diagnose a sports hernia by considering the symptoms, doing a thorough physical examination, and performing tests. You may be asked to sit up, stand up, flex your abdomen, and do some other physical actions during physical tests because they are painful if you have a sports hernia.
To rule out other possible causes, doctors might also perform imaging tests like MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, and bone scan.
Management and treatment of a sports hernia
The goal of a sports hernia treatment is to provide relief from pain and restore mobility, strength, and function. Both surgical and non-surgical treatment options are available to treat a sports hernia. However, the type of treatment depends on many factors, like the extent of the injury, the patient’s age, general health, and the activity level that the patient wants to return to.
Non-surgical treatment options for sports hernias:
It is recommended to rest and apply ice to the injured area for the first 7 to 10 days after the initial injury.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy and strengthening exercises after two weeks. The muscles of your inner thigh and your abdominal area will become stronger and more flexible as a result of these exercises.
To reduce swelling and pain, your doctor may suggest taking anti-inflammatory medications.
These are commonly called steroids, a type of anti-inflammatory drug. A cortisone injection is recommended when other anti-inflammatory medications fail to work.
In most cases, physical therapy for 4 to 6 weeks will subside pain and enable athletes to get back to their sports. However, if the pain comes back while playing sports or doing any other physical activities, surgery is needed to fix the damaged tissues.
Surgical procedures are of two types: laparoscopic and open surgical procedures. Depending on the location of damaged muscles or tendons and the severity of the injury, a surgeon will recommend the type of surgery.
Preventing sports hernias (athletic pubalgia) might be difficult because, in certain sports, high levels of stress are placed on the pelvis and hips. However, experts say following good technique while playing and doing certain exercises to strengthen the core hip and abdominal muscles and tendons helps minimize the sports hernia. These exercises also improve flexibility.
For more detailed information or looking for sports hernia treatment, consult Dr. Venugopal Pareek, one of the best laparoscopic and weight loss surgeons in Hyderabad. Call +91 91777-77715 to book your appointment.