An inguinal strain is an injury to the groin region in which one or more muscles in the adductor group on the inner thigh is pulled away from the tendon attaching it to the pelvis. More severe strains may be accompanied by partial or complete tears in which the muscle separates from the tendon or the tendon separates from the bone. A groin strain is not to be confused with an inguinal hernia, in which the lining of the abdominal cavity, or peritoneum, pushes through a weak spot in the wall of abdominal muscle above it, forming a bulge along or near the inguinal crease, the oblique line that denotes where the leg meets the torso.
Commonly referred to as a pulled groin, an inguinal strain involves one or more of the five muscles of the adductor group: the pectineus, adductor magnus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and gracilis. All five originate on the pubic bone in the lower pelvis and run down the inner thigh to attach to the femur or thigh bone, with the exception of the gracilis, which crosses the knee joint and attaches to the top of the tibia in the lower leg. These muscles are responsible for drawing the leg inward toward the midline of the body from a spread position, as in jumping the feet together during a jumping jack.
An inguinal strain occurs where these muscles attach, via tendons, to the pubic bone. This injury results from a sudden abduction of the leg, whether by jumping the feet apart suddenly, abruptly stepping laterally, or raising the leg to the side too forcefully, causing an excessive pull on the muscles and their attaching tendons. It is therefore common among hockey, football, and soccer players, and martial artists, all of whom are required to perform explosive lateral movements of the lower body. Examples of movements that may result in an inguinal strain are quick direction changes, as in football or soccer, abrupt lateral acceleration, as in ice skating, or, in the case of the martial arts, a swift side kick. The risk of sustaining this injury increases with inexperienced or de-conditioned athletes.
Symptoms of an inguinal strain may range from mild discomfort in the groin to severe pain, bruising, swelling, and difficulty in moving the area. Recommended treatment typically includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) immediately after the injury. Continued treatment may include over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, rest, and light stretching, with a gradual return to exercise.