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What is a Sports Hernia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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A sports hernia, more properly known as athletic pubalgia, is a condition characterized by a tear in the muscle along the inguinal canal, the area of the abdomen just above the groin. Athletes appear to be particularly prone to the condition because they tend to be very hard on their bodies, engaging in repetitive motion, high-speed activities, and rough sports which can damage muscle tissue. This condition is classically treated through simple rest, although it can also be treated surgically.

Technically, a sports hernia isn't a hernia at all. An inguinal hernia is a condition in which the abdominal wall weakens, allowing the intestines to protrude through it. When someone has a true inguinal hernia, a bulge at the site can be felt, and a surgical repair is required to strengthen the abdominal wall and push the herniated intestines back into place. A sports hernia does involve weakened muscles, but the muscles simply tear or pull away from the abdominal wall, and no pocket of intestines is formed.

This condition is characterized by pain around the stomach or groin. Male athletes also experience pain in the testicles. Since athletes tend to work through pain, a sports hernia can progress and become much worse before an athlete seeks treatment, and athletes also tend to go back into training too quickly, so the injury never has a chance to fully heal, and it may recur.

Rest is the best treatment, since it allows the muscles to heal themselves. Some athletes also use anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs, and gentle stretching to ease inflammation in the area and promote elastic muscles. Stretching can also reduce the risk of recurrence by providing more flexibility and strengthening the abdominal muscles so that they cannot tear as easily. Yoga and pilates, both of which encourage the development of strong core muscles, are often good additions to a training schedule to prevent the occurrence of sports hernias.

Some athletes pursue surgical repairs for a sports hernia, which is certainly an option. Even with surgery, however, a sports hernia can take an athlete out of commission for quite a while. Up to a year of recovery time may be needed to allow the injury to heal fully and to ease back into training, and many athletes feel that they need to go back to work sooner to keep their places on sports teams. A doctor should always be consulted before resuming training after such an injury, and before increasing the intensity of training.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon311813 — On Jan 04, 2013

My inguinal hernia seems to have healed. I was diagnosed with one in June 2012, and for a month I suffered a lot of discomfort. Surgery was not even offered, as where (in the UK) I live the Health Trust doesn’t fund hernia operations. I was given a medieval-looking truss that I didn’t even try on: it needed a screw-driver to secure it, and was bulky!

I do a lot of sport (running especially) and I didn’t want to stop that, so I bought three of the elasticated corset-style trusses made by the Support Company, and started wearing them all day every day, whether I was exercising or working (I have a sedentary job). I even ran a half-marathon wearing one in October with ho problems.

After that, I gradually started not putting the truss on at weekends at home, and noticed that the hernia wasn’t coming out nearly as often. Since Christmas I have stopped wearing it completely, and, knock on wood, the hernia hasn’t popped out once, even when I did a strenuous one-hour gym-session.

I’m going to try leaving it off during a six-mile run next! I have always eaten properly (lots of fresh fruit and vegetables) and kept my weight down: I’m 70 kilos and 1.75 metres in height, which must have helped. But so far the decision to sort this out myself looks like it is working. I’m 64.

By summing — On Jun 03, 2012

Is surgery the only sports hernia treatment option? I am always nervous about going under the knife and if there is any other option that is possible I will take it.

I feel like I have heard of hernias being fixed with medications or injections or something like that.

By chivebasil — On Jun 02, 2012

What are the sports hernia symptoms? I am worried that I might have one but I can't tell. Also, I do not have health insurance so I can't exactly go in to a doctor and have him take a look without it costing me a bundle of money.

By whiteplane — On Jun 01, 2012

I got a sports hernia playing soccer and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. It hurt to sit, it hurt to walk. I felt like I did not feel close to normal for almost 2 months.

It ended up having to be corrected surgically. The recovery time was not that long and afterwards I went right back to soccer. Still, I would rather have gotten kicked in the shin any day.

By anon29717 — On Apr 07, 2009

How can you tell the difference between a pulled groin and a sports hernia?

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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