Preventing the dreaded sports hernia

A sports hernia is a tear to the oblique abdominal muscles in the pelvic region of the abdomen. Unlike other hernias, the sports hernia has no visible bulge under the skin. The pain associated with a sports hernia resembles a groin strain, but doesn’t respond as well to rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications. The pain tends to return with a vengeance once the athlete returns to the sport.

A sports hernia occurs with the weakening of the muscles or tendons in a thin region of the lower abdominal wall. Once overexerted, a muscle tear occurs inside the groin. The oblique muscles attach at the top of the pubic bone while stronger hip muscles attach to the bottom of the pelvic bone. When both contract simultaneously and with a lot of force, a tug-of-war of the pelvis ensues.

Because the thigh muscles tend to be stronger than trunk, the weaker abdominal oblique muscles tear, resulting in a sports hernia. Sports hernias occur most commonly among football, hockey, soccer and tennis players. However, weekend warriors and athletes making extreme and repeated twisting-and-turning movements are also susceptible.

The initial treatment of a sports hernia is usually conservative in hopes that the symptoms will resolve. Resting from activity, anti-inflammatory medications, ice treatments, and physical therapy can all be utilized in an effort to alleviate the patient’s symptoms. If these measures do not relieve the symptoms, surgery may be needed to repair the weakened area of the abdominal wall. Most athletes are able to return to their activity after surgery and rehabilitation.

Other, more common, hernias occur when part of an organ (usually the intestines) bulges through a weak point or tear in the thin muscular wall of the abdomen. There are several types of hernias, based on where they occur:

  • Inguinal hernia appears as a bulge in the groin or scrotum. This type is more common in men than women.
  • Femoral hernia appears as a bulge in the upper thigh. This type is more common in women than in men.
  • Incisional hernia can occur through a scar if you had abdominal surgery.
  • Umbilical hernia appears as a bulge around the belly button. It occurs when the muscle around the navel doesn’t close completely.
  • Hiatal hernia occurs in the diaphragm and allows the upper part of the stomach to move up into the chest.

In general, hernias can affect men, women and children. A combination of muscle weakness and straining, such as with heavy lifting, might contribute. Some people are born with weak abdominal muscles and may be more likely to get a hernia.

You can attempt to prevent these types of hernias by:

  • using proper lifting techniques
  • losing weight if needed
  • avoiding constipation by eating plenty of fiber
  • drinking lots of water
  • going to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge
  • exercising regularly, with focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles. 

If you suspect you have a hernia, it is most commonly not a sports hernia! But, be sure to get examined by your physician in any case.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.

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