When lower abdominal wall muscles, ligaments, or tendons weaken in someone who is active with sports involving directional movements, a distinct type of hernia may develop.
Referred to as a sports hernia, the resulting tissue damage is different from an inguinal hernia in that there is usually no visible "hernia" in the affected area. It's simply tear or strain of any of the soft tissues in the groin or lower abdominal area – although a sports hernia can eventually become a traditional hernia without proper treatment.
What Causes a Sports Hernia?
Sports hernias normally develop as a result of actions that involve twisting, turning, and exertion on abdominal and groin muscles. These tears or strains can affect anyone at any age, although patients are usually younger since it's an injury often associated with more active and aggressive sports like football, wrestling, hockey, and soccer. Symptoms and signs suggesting a sports hernia may have developed include:
- Severe groin area pain
- Discomfort that goes away with rest and returns with activity
- A visible bulge in the affected area if a sports hernia has turned into a traditional hernia
- Chronic or disabling pain
How Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a sports hernia typically involves a discussion of symptoms and type of activities a patient normally participates in. A patient may be asked to sit up after initially lying down on an exam table to determine if there are signs of abdominal or groin strain. A positive diagnosis is usually made with X-rays or an MRI scan. Such tests can also rule out other possible sources of abdominal or groin pain. A bone scan and other tests may be performed as well.
Conservative Treatment Options
If discomfort is mild, resting the affected area of 7-10 days may give tissues enough time to heal. If there is a visible groin bulge, using a compression garment may help ease discomfort. A few weeks after the injury is sustained, it's usually safe to begin physical therapy to strengthen abdominal and inner thigh muscles. Normally, athletes are able to return to their regular activities after about 4-6 weeks. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be recommended to ease tissue swelling.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
If symptoms aren't going away with conservative treatments, surgery usually becomes an option. An endoscopy may be done to view the affected area to determine the extent of tissue damage. Similar minimally invasive techniques may be used to repair torn tissues. If the groin area is affected, a small groin nerve may need to be cut with a procedure known as an inguinal neurectomy. Strength and endurance can be regained with a personalized rehabilitation plan following surgery.
As with any type of sprain or strain-related injury, a sports hernia may be prevented by paying attention to proper form, technique, and posture when playing sports or participating in movement-based activities. Drinking water regularly, doing exercises that target abdominal muscles, and eating more high-fiber foods to avoid issues with constipation are additional steps that may reduce the risk of developing a sports hernia.