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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 don't cause problems. But sometimes symptoms may occur 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 often 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 crashes.
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's needed to relieve symptoms and heal.
An acute groin injury may occur from a direct blow, a stabbing injury, or 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 when you lift, push, or pull heavy objects. You might pull a groin muscle when you fall. A sudden pulling or tearing of a groin muscle may cause sudden pain. You may hear a snapping sound when you move your hip or leg. Swelling and bruising can happen quickly. But sometimes they don't appear 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. This 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. Examples include a muscle strain in the groin or buttock.
- 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 often affects teen 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's important to look for other causes of groin pain when you haven't had an injury.
An inguinal hernia is a bulge of soft tissue through a weak spot in the abdominal wall in the groin area. It 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 be enlarged and painful when there's an infection in the groin area. If the infection is minor, the swelling may last a few days and go away on its own.
Rashes in the groin area have many causes, such as ringworm or yeast (cutaneous candidiasis). Most rashes can be treated at home.
Causes of groin pain in children
When a child has 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. It affects the blood supply and proper placement of the head of the femur in the hip socket.
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis. It occurs when the femur slips at the growth plate (physis) and doesn't fit in the hip socket correctly.
- Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). It's caused by abnormal development of the hip joint. The femur may fit loosely into the hip socket (subluxation). Or it may 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). It's caused by a bacterial or fungal infection inside the hip joint.
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 can help relieve pain, swelling, and bruising. It can also help you heal after a minor groin injury.
- 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. Don't do intense activities while you still have pain. A pulled muscle (strain) in the groin can take several weeks to heal.
- Put ice or a cold pack on the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). 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, you can apply warmth to the area that hurts.
- While you recover 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.
If you think you may have a more severe injury, you may need to be checked by your doctor.
Stretching and strengthening exercises
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 start 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 your pain gets worse, slow down or stop the exercises.
You may do strengthening exercises with light weights, such as ankle weights. But wait until the pain has decreased and your flexibility has improved.
Non–weight-bearing activities, such as swimming or cycling, may be helpful. It depends on how serious your injury is. A sports medicine health professional or trainer can advise you about fitness activities.
Other groin area problems
Rashes and injuries may also occur in the groin area.
- Rashes, such as those that occur with yeast infections or jock itch, are often treated with creams or ointments.
- Cuts are rinsed and cleaned. If a cut is large or painful, you may need to see a doctor.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- New or worse signs of infection, such as redness, warmth, pus, or a fever.
- A painful lump or swelling.
- New or worse rash.
- New or worse urinary problems, such as burning with urination or blood in urine.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine