Groin strain is when you damage the muscles on the inside of your upper thigh. There are six muscles in your thigh which work together to give you full movement of your leg and hip. Any of these muscles may be strained and damage to the muscle attaching to your groin is referred to as a groin strain.
This injury is common among those who are active in sports such as football or hurdling where running and jumping puts extra strain on the groin area.
Groin strain is most likely to occur where the muscle and the tendon meet. If adequate recovery time is not given, it can become a long term problem as the muscle and bones may weaken.
A tear in a muscle is called a muscle strain. Groin strain is primarily caused by stretching muscles attached to your groin too far or too vigorously. This often happens if they are tensed forcefully or quickly. It can lead to tearing or even rupturing of the muscle fibres. Side stepping movements or sudden changes in direction are often the cause of groin strain, although it sometimes happens after repeatedly running or jumping with poor technique, or by launching into exercise without an adequate warm up.
The first symptom of a groin strain is a sudden feeling of snapping or popping and a severe surge of pain. The pain may be worsened when you move your leg up or bring your knees together. It can be tender in the inside of your thigh and you may develop bruising and swelling. Groin strain, like all strain injuries, are classed by severity of the injury:
- Grade 1 – this is the least severe type of injury. You may have torn a few muscle fibres, or just overstretched the muscle. You may feel mild pain but you will have little loss of movement
- Grade 2 – this is more severe and means that you will have torn a lot of your muscle fibres. You will experience moderate pain, and may find that you cannot perform some activities such as running. There may also be a little swelling or bruising
- Grade 3 – this is the most serious injury and may be a complete rupture of the muscle. It will be severe pain, and you may have difficulty walking. There is likely to be swelling and also a bulge of muscle tissue at the site of the injury.
As they always say, ‘prevention is better than cure.’ There are simple steps which you should take to minimise your chances of straining the muscles in your groin:
- Warm up your muscles and give them a good stretch before exercise – this will make sure that your muscles are at their most flexible before you start putting extra stress on them. It is important to allow extra time for warming up when it is cold outside. It is also important to cool down your muscles after physical activity so that they do not cramp or spasm.
- Protect your muscles – wearing good trainers is one of the best ways of supporting your muscles and joints. If you start to feel any pain in your groin area, or indeed in any of your muscles, it is important to stop the activity you are performing.
- Strengthen your muscles – increase any stress on your muscles gradually by about 10% per week. Perform muscle strengthening exercises regularly, particularly if you have suffered a groin strain in the past.
If you do suffer a groin injury it is important to treat it straight away in order to minimise muscle damage. While it is often advisory to seek medical attention with this injury, there are certain measures which you can take immediately to prevent further damage:
Rest the muscle straight away and as much as possible. If you find that walking doesn’t cause any pain, then it is fine to keep walking. However, any activity which increases the level of pain should not be carried out. Try to give yourself as much of a break as possible after the injury, to give it the best chance of healing.
Ice the injury as soon as possible as this will minimise swelling and bruising. Do not apply ice directly onto the skin as this may damage it, but wrap it in a cloth or tea towel first. It is important to keep reapplying the ice, especially within the first couple of days.
Arnica has been used for hundreds of years for their anti-inflammatory properties, and also for minimising bruising. It can be found in licensed herbal remedies such as Atrogel Arnica gel, and if applied frequently after the injury can reduce swelling, bruising and pain.
In Grade 3 injuries, surgery is likely to be necessary to reattach the muscle fibres. It can take several months of physiotherapy after the surgery to be able to return to full strength. It is important to be patient and not return to high levels of activity after these injuries to prevent further strain. You should only return to sport when you no longer feel any discomfort and your leg feels as strong as the uninjured one.