Q: After getting some groin pain checked out, my doctor says I have a sports hernia. What kind of recovery am I looking at?
A: No athlete wants to be sidelined for the rest of the season, but pushing through the pain won’t always keep you in the game, especially when it comes to groin injuries.
First off: Know that if your doctor diagnosed you with a sports hernia, you aren’t looking at a typical “hernia” at all. In fact, a better term would be “core muscle injury,” says William Meyers, M.D., a surgeon who has been treating athletes with groin and abdominal injuries for 25 years. The core includes not only your six-pack abs, but also the other muscles that stabilize the pelvis to give you the strength and athleticism that you need on the field—even the larger muscles along the side and the back play an important role.
Core muscle injuries, which involve a tearing of the muscles or tissues in the groin and abdomen, can affect athletes across all levels and sports—from pros to weekend warriors, baseball players to soccer players—and result from a sudden injury on the field or long-term overuse. Because so many muscles can be involved, these injuries also vary quite a bit. “The injuries that occur, to some degree,” says Dr. Meyers, “turn out to be sports-specific with a lot of overlap.” For example, an outfielder will tend to have different injuries from a linebacker.
Now if you injured the supporting muscles of the back and side, they are more likely to heal on their own. However, injuries on the front require some assistance. With proper treatment—which often means surgery and rehab—recovery can happen in about three to seven weeks, says Dr. Meyers. The first step is finding a surgeon that specializes in treating core muscle injuries, also known as athletic pubalgia or sports hernia (call around to ask), but these tips can help you bounce back more quickly after surgery, too:
- Stay in shape beforehand. Maintaining as much of your pre-injury fitness as possible pre-surgery can help you “get out of surgery and get through rehab quicker,” says Dr. Meyers. Because core muscle injuries and pain tolerance vary so much from individual to individual, it’s best to talk with your doctor about what activities you can keep doing safely.
- Don’t overdo rest. If your problem doesn’t involve the hip—a frequent occurrence with core muscle injuries—rest can cause you to lose your muscle tone, which can make you more likely to injure yourself again once you get back out there. Your doctor will guide you toward selecting appropriate activities. At his clinic in Philadelphia, Dr. Meyers has his patients “walking a mile the day after surgery, and squeezing their legs together—activating their adductors.”
- Find a good core physical therapy program. Ideally, your doctor will be able to recommend a program designed specifically for this type of injury, and one of the key selling points of a good program is experience—so don’t be afraid to shop around and ask questions. Once settled into therapy, expect the exercises to focus on strengthening the back, side and butt mucles, says Dr. Meyers, who offers both physical therapy and yoga at his clinic. (And beware of physical therapists who make you do mostly ab work, like crunches and sit-ups. Overtraining the muscles on the front can aggravate your injury.)
ABOUT THE MF EXPERT: William C. Meyers, M.D., is a surgeon who specializes in athletic pubalgia. He has dedicated 25 years to pioneering the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention of core muscle injuries in patients that include pro athletes from the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Major League Soccer. In the fall of 2010, he established Vincera Core Physicians, where he continues to focus on treating and researching core muscle injuries.