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Groin Problems and Injuries
You may have had a minor groin problem at one time or another. Most of the time our body movements do not cause problems. It's not surprising that symptoms may develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or an injury.
The groin areas are located on each side of the body in the folds where the belly joins the legs. The pubic area lies between the two groin areas.
Groin injuries most commonly occur during:
- Sports or recreational activities, such as ice hockey, cross-country skiing, basketball, and soccer.
- Work-related activities.
- Work or projects around the home.
- Motor vehicle accidents.
Groin problems and injuries can cause pain and concern. Most minor problems or injuries will heal on their own. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve symptoms and heal.
An acute injury may occur from a direct blow, a stabbing injury, a fall, or from the leg being turned in an abnormal position.
You can pull (strain) or tear a groin muscle during exercise, such as running, skating, kicking in soccer, or playing basketball. You can strain a groin muscle while lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects. You might pull a groin muscle when you fall. A sudden pulling or tearing of a groin muscle may cause sudden pain. A snapping sound may be heard with hip or leg movement. Swelling and bruising can happen quickly. Sometimes swelling and bruising do not show up for a few days after the injury.
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on an area. This often happens when you overdo an activity or repeat the same activity day after day. Overuse can lead to muscle strains or tears or may cause swelling. Overuse may cause:
- A hairline crack in a bone (stress fracture).
- Osteitis pubis, which is a condition that causes chronic groin pain because of stress on the pubis symphysis. Distance runners and soccer players are most likely to be affected.
- Hip problems.
- Avulsion fractures. This occurs when force causes a tendon or ligament to tear away from a bone and break off a piece of bone. It most commonly affects teenage athletes who are involved in jumping, kicking, sprinting, or hurdling sports.
Other causes of groin problems
Groin pain not caused by an injury to the groin may be coming from other parts of the body. This is called radiating, or referred, pain. Pulled muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the leg may cause symptoms in the groin. It is important to look for other causes of groin pain when you have not had an injury.
An inguinal hernia is a bulge of soft tissue through a weak spot in the abdominal wall in the groin area. See a picture of an inguinal hernia. An inguinal hernia may need surgical treatment. A sports hernia may affect the same area of the groin in competitive athletes.
Infections may cause a lump, bumps, or swelling in the groin area. Glands (lymph nodes) in the groin may become enlarged and painful when there is an infection in the groin area. If the infection is minor, the swelling may last a few days and go away on its own.
Groin symptoms in children
When a child develops groin pain, the pain may be caused by a problem with the upper part of the thighbone (head of the femur) or the hip. Common causes of groin pain, knee pain (referred pain from the hip), or limping include:
- Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This condition affects the blood supply and proper placement of the head of the femur in the hip socket.
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis. This condition occurs when the femur slips at the growth plate (physis) and does not fit in the hip socket correctly.
- Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). This condition is caused by abnormal development of the hip joint. The femur may fit loosely into the hip socket (subluxation) or be completely out of the hip socket.
- Swelling (inflammation) of the lining of the joint space of the hip (toxic synovitis).
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. This disease causes inflamed, swollen, stiff, and often painful joints.
- Infectious arthritis (septic arthritis). This is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection inside the hip joint.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Symptoms of infection may include:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or around the area.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
Pain in adults and older children
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Urinary symptoms may include:
- Pain when you urinate.
- Trouble urinating.
- Not being able to urinate at all.
- Blood in your urine.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Home treatment measures can help relieve pain, swelling, and bruising and promote healing after a groin injury. These home treatment measures also may be helpful for noninjury problems. But if you think you may have a more severe injury, use first aid measures while you arrange to be checked by your doctor.
- Rest. Rest and protect an injured or sore groin area for 1 to 2 weeks. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness. Do not do intense activities while you still have pain. A pulled muscle (strain) in the groin can take several weeks to heal.
- Ice. Cold will reduce pain and swelling. Apply an ice or cold pack immediately to reduce swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day. A bag of frozen peas or corn may work as a cold pack. Protect your skin from frostbite by placing a cloth between the ice and your skin. After 48 to 72 hours, if the swelling is gone, apply warmth to the area that hurts.
- Support. While you are recovering from a groin injury, wear underwear that supports the injured area. Females can use workout underwear or shorts with a snug fit. For males, it's best to wear jockey shorts with a snug fit rather than boxer shorts.
It may take 4 to 6 weeks or longer for a minor groin injury to heal. Stretching and strengthening exercises will help you gradually return to your normal activities.
Stretching exercises begin with range-of-motion exercises. These are controlled stretches that prevent stiffness and tendon shortening. Gently bend, straighten, and rotate your leg and hip. If you have increasing pain, slow down or stop the exercises.
You may do strengthening exercises with light weights, such as ankle weights, after the pain has decreased and your flexibility has improved.
Non–weight-bearing activities, such as swimming or cycling, may be helpful depending on the seriousness of your injury. A sports medicine health professional or trainer can advise you about fitness activities.
Try an over-the-counter medicine to help treat your pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use an over-the-counter medicine:
Home treatment measures may also be helpful for:
- Yeast infections that cause a fiery red rash with a scalloped border and sharply outlined edges in skin folds.
- Jock itch, which is a fungus (ringworm) infection of the skin that may cause a rash and blisters.
- Minor cuts or skin wounds with mild bleeding.
- Minor rashes that are red and itchy. These may be caused by contact with a substance (contact dermatitis) such as poison ivy that causes an allergic reaction.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Signs of infection develop, such as fever, swelling, redness, or pus.
- Swelling that is known to be a hernia suddenly becomes very painful.
- A rash gets worse or has not improved.
- Groin pain has not improved.
- A limp or trouble walking develops or becomes worse.
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
The following tips may help you prevent a groin injury or other problems in the groin area.
Prevent groin injury and strain
Steps to prevent a groin injury or strain may include the following:
- Warm up by stretching the groin muscles before exercising. Stretching can increase your range of motion and reduce stiffness and pain. Stretching is also important during the cool-down phase of exercise when your muscles are warm.
- Increase the intensity and length of exercise gradually. As your fitness level improves, you will be able to do more intense exercise without injury.
- Try to exercise regularly. Don't just go all out on weekends.
- Use proper sports techniques and equipment. For example:
- Wear supportive, well-cushioned shoes for running, aerobics, and walking.
- Properly adjust your bicycle seat and handlebars for your height.
- Drink extra water before and during exercise, especially in hot or humid weather. This can help prevent muscle cramps and stiffness.
- Make sure you can always see where you are walking. To avoid falls:
- Use a step stool when reaching for high objects. Do not stand on chairs or other objects.
- Don't climb stairs with both hands full.
- Get help carrying heavy or awkward objects. Do not strain to lift or carry objects.
Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
You can take measures to reduce your risk of becoming infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can also reduce the risk of transmitting an STI to your sex partner. Know high-risk behaviors and the symptoms of STIs, and do not have sex with anyone who has these symptoms.
Condom use may reduce the risk of becoming infected with an STI. Condoms must be put on before beginning any sexual contact. Use condoms with a new partner.
Prevent jock itch or yeast infection
Try the following things to prevent jock itch (fungal infection of the skin in the groin) or yeast infection (cutaneous candidiasis):
- Dry yourself well after bathing. Use a hair dryer to dry your groin area.
- Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Avoid tight pants.
- Use a powder to absorb moisture.
- If you have athlete's foot, put on your socks before your underwear. This can prevent fungi from spreading from your feet to your groin when you put on your underwear.
- Change out of a wet bathing suit soon after swimming so that your skin can dry out.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions.
Before your appointment
If you have a rash, do not have sexual contact or activity until you are seen by your doctor. This will reduce the risk of transmitting a possible infection to your sex partner. If you do have an STI, your sex partner or partners may need to be evaluated and treated also.
Questions to prepare for your doctor appointment
- What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
- Have you had this problem before? If so, do you know what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated?
- What activities make your symptoms better or worse? What sports do you participate in?
- How and when did an injury occur? How was it treated?
- Have you had any injuries in the past to the same area? Do you have any continuing problems because of the previous injury?
- Do you think that activities related to your job or hobbies caused your symptoms?
- Have you had infections or rashes in the groin area in the past?
- Do you or your sex partner engage in high-risk sexual behaviors? Do you think you have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
- Does your sex partner have any genital symptoms or problems?
- Have you had any surgeries or procedures in the groin area?
- Have you been told that you have a hernia?
- What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
- What prescription and nonprescription medicines have you taken? Did they help?
- Do you have any health risks?
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine