How to Prevent and Treat a Groin Strain

Learn common causes of groin strains and how to prevent and relieve them, especially with exercises from physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 14, 2024
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If you play a lot of sports, you might be familiar with groin strains (aka groin pulls). They’re one of the most common injuries that affects athletes. But you don’t have to kick a ball or shoot a puck to overstretch a groin muscle — it can happen to any of us. 

And when a groin strain does occur, it can take you out of the game — be that sidelining you from your pick-up basketball league or causing you to have difficulty with day-to-day activities. 

Groin muscles play a vital role in your ability to move easily and feel stable. Luckily, if you do suffer a groin strain, conservative treatments, including targeted exercises to stretch and strengthen the injured groin area, can help restore strength, improve mobility, and get you back in action. 

Read on to learn more about what causes groin strains, along with how to prevent and treat them, especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kimbrough is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

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What Is a Groin Strain?

First, a little anatomy lesson: The groin is a general term for the area of the body that’s located between where the abdomen ends and the thigh begins on each side of the body. The groin area has muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are important for hip and leg movement and stability.

“When we’re talking about groin strains, we’re specifically talking about an injury to the adductor muscles,” explains Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “These muscles pull the thighs together, rotate the upper leg inwards, and stabilize the hip.”

A groin strain occurs when an adductor muscle is overstretched or overloaded. This results in a micro tear or a large tear, depending on the amount of damage. The good news: Strains can heal well with conservative, at-home measures. 

Groin Strain: A Hinge Health Perspective

“A typical response after a groin strain is, ‘I have to protect the area and rest it,’” says Dr. Kimbrough. If you’re in pain, it’s natural to want to avoid activities you feel might make it worse. And hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound alarming, but your adductor muscles are very resilient and designed to recover from the kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

That said, you don’t want to avoid all movement as you recover. In fact, movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. The reason: “Research shows that complete rest can make it harder for us to recover in the long term, leading to a loss of muscle strength and creating stiffness in the groin area due to lingering inflammation,” says Dr. Kimbrough.

You want your muscles and tendons to remain flexible and mobile to prevent tightness that can lead to another groin strain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support your healing and strengthen the affected area to help prevent future injury. 

Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT
No matter what the severity of your groin injury, movement can help you heal, feel better, and get back to your usual activities.

Groin Strain Symptoms

The main symptoms of a groin strain are pain and tenderness around the inner groin and the pubic bone. “A lot of the muscles of the inner thigh attach near your pubic bone, so you might have tenderness and local swelling in that area as well,” says Dr. Kimbrough. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain when squeezing your thighs together.

  • Pain when standing, walking, going up and down stairs, or doing anything that might require balance or standing on one leg.

  • Pain ranging from a dull ache to a sharp pain. “At rest,  there's typically a dull ache around the groin area,” says Dr. Kimbrough. “Sharp pain can happen when you overextend the muscle, so you might feel it if you make any sudden movements.”

  • Spasms in the inner thigh muscles, due to inflammation or muscle guarding (in which your muscles tighten up around the injured area as a protective response). One important plus to slowly introducing movement in the early phase of a groin strain is that it helps calm down the hypersensitivity of your pain system, which can help manage muscle spasms.

What Causes a Groin Strain?

“Groin strains are very common in athletes, specifically those who play sports such as soccer, hockey, football, or basketball,” says Dr. Kimbrough. “These sports all demand strong contractions of the adductor muscles since they require powerful, abrupt, multidirectional movements.” 

While groin strains most often occur in athletic activities, they also can happen during everyday activities, such as lifting heavy items or making a quick leap to pick up a baby or a pet. A collision or fall, such as slipping while walking, can also result in a groin strain. 

Groin Strain Treatment Options 

There are three grades of groin strains: mild (some pain with exercising but you can generally keep up with most activities), moderate (more pain and you may notice a more limited range of motion), and severe (significant pain that can make basic activities feel challenging to impossible). 

The good news: Most groin strains can usually be treated conservatively without surgery with these self-care measures: 

  • Scale back on painful activities temporarily. Instead of avoiding movement entirely, simply pull back on activities that cause any unacceptable increases in pain. “Let movement be your guide,” Dr. Kimbrough advises. “Some low-level pain and soreness is okay, but modify any activity or position that creates sharp or shooting pain in the groin area, or that increases your resting soreness level over a 24- to 48-hour period.”

  • Use ice, heat, or both. Ice reduces swelling and lessens pain. Ice for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days after your groin injury. After that, heat (either moist or dry) can be used to increase blood flow and assist the natural healing process. Ice and heat can both be helpful, so go with whichever option feels best for you.

  • Give yourself a massage. Self-massage to the inner thigh muscle can help you pinpoint the area that may have been strained and allow you to bring more blood flow to the region for healing. The gentle kneading can also often help soften the tissues that may have been pulled.

  • Consider over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for pain from a groin strain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history. 

  • Use Compression. To reduce swelling, support your groin with an elastic bandage or compression clothing like bike shorts. “Even applying some pressure while you’re icing can be helpful,” says Dr. Kimbrough. 

  • Elevate your groin area. Raise your groin by lying down and putting pillows under your hips to lift the hips and thighs to help reduce swelling and inflammation.

PT Exercises for Groin Strain Recovery

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  • Seated Hip Adduction
  • Side Lunge
  • Side Lying Hip Adduction
  • Butterfly Stretch

The above exercises will help you regain full range of motion in your groin area and restore muscle strength, endurance, and coordination, which can be impaired following a muscle injury. Aim to perform them regularly, at least three times a week or as tolerated, and then slowly work your way up to performing them once a day. Do each strengthening exercise 10 times on each side. Work up to holding stretches for 30 seconds and performing them twice.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Don’t Forget to Warm Up Before Exercise

“Whether you’ve had a groin strain or you participate in activities that put you at risk for one, there are definitely things you can do to prevent a future injury,” says Dr. Kimbrough. That includes implementing a dynamic warm-up. 

“The goal of a dynamic warm-up is to slowly get your heart rate up and warm up your muscles, so they’re more elastic and less prone to injury,” says Dr. Kimbrough. Some dynamic warm-ups that really target the adductors include sumo squats (imagine regular squats but with your toes turned out and a wider stance) and jumping jacks. “By repetitively jumping back in and out, you’re getting movement and blood flow through the inner thighs,” says Dr. Kimbrough. That’s not all, though. Jumping jacks are a full-body exercise, one that also strengthens muscles and improves coordination. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

References 

  1. Serner, A., Tol, J. L., Jomaah, N., Weir, A., Whiteley, R., Thorborg, K., Robinson, M., & Hölmich, P. (2015). Diagnosis of Acute Groin Injuries. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(8), 1857–1864. doi:10.1177/0363546515585123

  2. Groin strain. (2014). Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Groin_strain 

  3. Groin Strain. (2023, November 2). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/groin-strain