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A groin strain is a tear or rupture to any one of the muscles resulting in pain and swelling. We explain the symptoms, treatment and rehabilitation exercises for a groin strain.
Groin strain symptoms
Symptoms of an acute groin strain typically include a sudden sharp pain in the groin area, either in the belly of the muscle or higher. The athlete may or may not be able to play on depending on how bad it is. There may also be rapid swelling followed by bruising. Groin strains are graded 1, 2 or 3 depending on the extent of the injury. See groin strain assessment for more details.
Groin strain explained
There are five adductor muscles, the pectineus, adductor brevis and adductor longus (called short adductors which go from the pelvis to the thigh bone) and the gracilis and adductor magnus (long adductors which go from the pelvis to the knee).
The main function of the adductors is to pull the legs back towards the midline, a movement called adduction. During normal walking they are used in pulling the swinging lower limb towards the middle to maintain balance. They are also used extensively in sprinting, playing football, horse riding, hurdling and any sport which requires fast changes in direction.
A rupture or tear in the muscle usually occurs when sprinting, changing direction or in rapid movements of the leg against resistance such as kicking a ball. This is especially likely if a thorough warm-up has not been undertaken first! Repetitive overuse of the groin muscles may result in adductor tendinopathy.
How bad is my groin strain?
A grade 1 groin strain is a minor tear where less than 10% of fibers are damaged. The athlete feels discomfort in the groin or inner thigh. This may not be noticed until after exercise stops. The groin muscles will usually feel tight and there may be an area which is tender to touch. Walking is normal, discomfort may only be when running or even just on changes in direction.
A 2 injury is a moderate tear which can be anything from 10 to 90% of fibres torn. The patient will feel a sudden sharp pain in the groin area or adductor muscles during exercise. There may be tightening of the groin muscles that may not be present until the following day. Minor bruising or swelling may develop but this might not occur until a couple of days after the initial injury. Weakness and possibly pain on contracting the adductor muscles or squeeze your legs together. Walking may be affected and running will be painful.
Grade 3 groin strains are the most serious, being either partial or full ruptures. The patient will feel severe pain during exercise, often on changing direction suddenly when sprinting. They will be unable to contract the groin muscles or squeeze the legs together. Substantial swelling and bruising on the inner thigh will develop within 24 hours. They will feel pain on attempting to stretch the groin muscles and it may even be possible to feel a gap or lump in the muscle.
More detailed information on how a groin strain is diagnoses can be seen on our groin strain assessment page.
Treatment of a groin strain
What can the athlete do?
Immediate treatment for a groin strain is to apply the PRICE principles of protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Protect the leg from further injury by resting. Ice or cold therapy should be applied as soon as possible and for 10 to 15 minutes every hour for a more severe injury during the acute stage which is usually 24 to 48 hours.
Applying a compression bandage or support will also help reduce pain and swelling. Professional sports practitioners are known to immediately apply a very tight compression wrap around a torn muscle to limit swelling immediately, although this should only be applied for 10 minutes at a time as restricting blood flow can cause other problems.
Crutches should be used if necessary to allow proper rest. After the initial acute period and as soon as pain allows gentle stretching should be done followed by a full groin strain rehabilitation program. For a suspected grade 3 strain seek professional help immediately.
What can a sports injury specialist or doctor do?
A professional therapist can properly diagnose the injury and advise on treatment. They may use electrotherapy such as ultrasound or laser to help reduce pain and swelling. A doctor may prescribe anti inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen in the early stages.
Groin strain taping can help protect and support the muscle both in the early stages immediately after injury and later on when returning to sports specific training.
After the initial acute stage sports massage techniques can be applied to help loosen and mobilize the tissues. There is a high rate of recurrence with groin strains and deep tissue massage may be very beneficial in avoiding this.
See our groin strain rehab program for more detailed information.
More on Groin Strains:
- Groin strain assessment
- Rehabilitation programme
- Stretching the groin
- Strengthening exercises for groin strains
- Sports massage techniques for groin strains
- Groin strain prevention
- Strapping a groin strain
More expert interviews about groin pain: