A groin pull or strain is either a complete or partial tear of one of the six muscles that span the distance from the inner part of the femur to the inner pelvis. This group of muscles, called the “adductor muscles”, help you pull and squeeze the legs together, and aid with other movements of the hip joint. Groin strains are very common in athletes who play sports that require jumping and running. Depending on the severity of the injury, a groin pull can be very painful. A grade I groin strain will contain mild discomfort and usually does not impact your ability to run or jump. A grade II strain has moderate discomfort with bruising and swelling, and can limit your ability to run and jump. A grade III strain is a very severe injury which can cause significant bruising and swelling, and may include muscle spasms and severe pain when walking.
A muscle that is stretched too far has the chance to become pulled or strained. Mild strains pull the muscle slightly beyond its normal excursion, while more severe strains can tear the muscle fibers, sometimes completely tearing the muscle. Groin strains are very common in people that play running sports, such as tennis, track and field, basketball, football, soccer, and baseball. Tennis players and basketball players constantly stop and start, and thus the muscle is susceptible to being pulled or torn. For baseball players, running out a ground ball or for a fly ball can cause a pulled groin as well. Groin strains are also common among hockey players, making up about 10% of injuries in the NHL.
A groin strain will usually heal on its own as long as it is treated properly. To speed up the healing process, you can follow the RICE protocol. Rest is required, which means stopping any activity that could aggravate the injury. You should also ice the inside of your thigh to reduce swelling and pain. Ice for around 20 minutes at a time every couple of hours or so until the pain is gone (2-3 days is recommended). Make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a thin towel to prevent skin damage. Use tape or an elastic bandage to compress the thigh, and make sure it remains elevated above the level of your heart. This will also help reduce swelling. For pain, take over-the-counter pain medications. If after six months the symptoms are not gone, you may need surgery. For athletes, surgery is usually the best option if it is a moderate or severe strain.
The amount of time it takes to recover from a groin strain varies, depending on how severe the strain is, and how it responds to treatment. A rough estimate is 4-6 weeks, although this can be shorter or longer. If you require surgery, it may take a few months. Physical therapists are extremely helpful at guiding treatment and giving you rehabilitation techniques and exercises. Specific exercises that work the groin and a therapeutic massage are two of the many rehabilitation options. It is important rehab gradually, stopping if any symptoms or pain returns. To prevent groin strains, make sure you stretch and warm up properly before any kind of physical activity. Warming up prepares the adductor muscles for activity and gets the blood flowing, which can help prevent a pull or strain, because it loosens up any tight muscles. You should also try to eat a high carbohydrate diet, especially before you begin exercising or playing a sport. This gives the adductor muscles the fuel they need to work properly. Kids Health has more information about groin strains and how to successfully manage them.