Anyone can experience having a pulled groin (groin strain) but it's much more common when running, jumping and playing sports.
What is a pulled groin (groin strain)?
A pulled groin (or groin strain) is caused by putting too much stress on muscles in your groin and thigh. If these muscles are tensed too forcefully or too suddenly, they can be over-stretched or torn. A pulled groin can vary in severity from mild to severe.
How common is groin strain?
Pulled groin is common in people who play sports that require a lot of running and jumping, especially suddenly jumping or changing direction. A groin strain often occurs in people who play football or hockey.
What are the symptoms of groin strain?
The symptoms will depend on how badly you've pulled your groin but may include:
- A popping or snapping feeling during the injury, followed by severe pain.
- Pain and tenderness in the groin and the inside of your thigh.
- Pain when you bring your legs together.
- Pain when you raise your knee or try to climb stairs.
What are the tests for groin strain?
To diagnose a groin pull, your doctor will give you a thorough examination and usually no further tests are needed. However, tests like X-rays, ultrasound scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be needed to rule out other problems.
What are the treatments for groin strain?
A pulled groin will usually heal without any treatment and just needs time and rest. However, you can help the groin to heal more quickly by doing the following:
- Ice treatment for the inside of your thigh to reduce pain and swelling. Put ice or a cold pack on your groin area for 10 to 20 minutes. Place a thin cloth between your skin and the ice/cold pack to avoid an ice burn to your skin. Do this frequently (every few hours during the day if possible) for the first three days or until the swelling goes down.
- Compress your thigh using an elastic bandage or tape.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, will help with pain and swelling. Note: these should only be used for a short period, such as up to 1-2 weeks.
- Active stretching and strengthening exercises. You should use the level of pain to guide how much exercise you should do. if the exercises are too aggressive or frequent then further damage may occur.
- Until your groin feels completely better, switch to a different activity that won't put too much stress on your groin muscles. For example, runners could try swimming to stay fit until the groin problem has resolved.
Simple conservative treatments as listed above are usually enough to help a pulled groin get better.
However if they don't work very well then surgery may be an option, especially if you are an athlete or other sportsperson and need to be back in training or competing as soon as possible.
While surgery may give you relief, it's still a last resort. Not everyone can return to their previous level of activity after surgery.
How do you know when your groin strain is better?
The recovery time depends on how serious your groin strain is. It often takes about four to six weeks but different people heal at different rates. Whatever you do, don't rush things. If you start pushing yourself before your groin has healed, further injury may occur. Repeated pulled groins may take longer to heal or even become a permanent problem.
How can you prevent groin strain?
- Always warm up thoroughly, including your legs and groin muscles, before any physical activity.
- Wear shoes with good support that fit well.
- Always slowly increase the intensity of your physical activity and build up gradually.
- Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in your groin or the inside of your thigh.
- Do regular strengthening exercises for your thigh muscles.
Groin injuries can result from added stress due to weakness elsewhere. Make sure your exercise/training programme addresses all areas, such as ankle, knee and core, and this will help to prevent sports injuries such as a pulled groin.
Further reading and references
Elattar O, Choi HR, Dills VD, et al; Groin Injuries (Athletic Pubalgia) and Return to Play. Sports Health. 2016 Jul8(4):313-23. doi: 10.1177/1941738116653711. Epub 2016 Jun 14.
McSweeney SE, Naraghi A, Salonen D, et al; Hip and groin pain in the professional athlete. Can Assoc Radiol J. 2012 May63(2):87-99. doi: 10.1016/j.carj.2010.11.001. Epub 2011 Aug 5.
Ellsworth AA, Zoland MP, Tyler TF; Athletic pubalgia and associated rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Nov9(6):774-84.