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Sports Hernia: New Name, Old Condition

February 7, 2006 10:48 AM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal (athletesperformance.com), Author, Tennis: Steps to Success

In the late 1990s, the term “sports hernia” began to creep into the sports medicine literature. Until then, it had been referred to simply as “groin pain” or “chronic groin pain.” Now, “sports hernia” seems to be on the sports page all too often.

Whatever you call it, a sports hernia is a relatively common injury that affects athletes in several sports, including tennis. Any activity that involves frequently bending over and leaning forward puts you in a high-risk category. Actually, a sports hernia is simply a torn muscle in the lower abdomen. Diagnosing it can be difficult, because (unlike common hernias) a bulge in the groin or leg area is not necessarily visible. The symptoms all involve pain -pain in the lower abdomen, groin pain, pain on just one side, and pain that gets worse with sudden movements such as sprinting, kicking, side-stepping, and even sneezing or coughing. It is more common in men than in women. There aren't any tests to help diagnose the injury, although your doctor may perform tests to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

The first line of treatment is rest, accompanied by anti-inflammatory medications and ice applications (20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a day). A sports medicine physician may refer you to a physical therapist who can supervise or recommend specific exercises to strengthen the muscle in that area of the body. If rest and therapy are not effective, surgery may be necessary to release and reattach connective tissue and muscles.

Recovery can take a few weeks to a few months, but returning to tennis training or competition should be determined by how soon your abdominal muscles recover instead of how many days, weeks, or months have passed since the injury occurred. The longer a player continues to participate in tennis or other activities that cause the pain, the longer the healing process will take. A sign that you may be able to return to the courts is when you can bend at the waist to touch your toes and return to an upright position without pain, or when you can perform a sit-up or crunch with pain. Better check with your doctor or physical therapist to get final approval.

© 2005 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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