A sports hernia is technically not a hernia at all. While the symptoms can be similar to inguinal hernia, treatment will depend on the type and severity of the injury.

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A hernia is when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle that holds it in place. A sports hernia is defined as a fray or tear in the muscle tissue of the lower abdomen or groin.

A sports hernia is commonly seen in athletes whose sports require sudden changes in direction and repetitive movements like quick pivots, sharp turns, and kicking.

An inguinal hernia occurs when a portion of the small intestine or female reproductive system pushes through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdomen and enters the inguinal canal. The inguinal canals are located on both the left and right sides of the groin and pass through the lower abdominal wall.

The main difference between a sports hernia and an inguinal hernia is that a sports hernia is technically not a hernia at all. This is because there’s no organ protrusion through the muscle with a sports hernia.

Read on to learn more about these injuries.

Both sports hernias and inguinal hernias are similar in that pain and discomfort usually begin slowly and increase in intensity as time passes, especially when continuing athletic activity.

In both cases, symptoms may include:

  • pain or discomfort in the hip or groin area
  • pain that’s triggered by or worsens through exercising, coughing, or bending over
  • abdominal tenderness

The main difference is that an inguinal hernia is noticeable through the appearance of a bulge in the lower abdomen or male scrotum.

In addition to the symptoms listed above, specific inguinal hernia symptoms include:

  • a burning or aching sensation at the bulge
  • a heavy or full sensation in the groin
  • pressure and swelling in the groin or scrotum

A sports hernia is most often caused by a combination of overuse of the muscles in the abdomen and groin, and insufficient strength for the task at hand.

In certain cases, it may also occur from a high impact injury, like getting tackled in football or soccer, or checked into the boards in hockey. These activities can cause a rip or tear of the muscles in the lower abdomen, resulting in a sports hernia.

Without proper rest, rehab, and recovery, a sports hernia can eventually develop into an inguinal hernia.

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Inguinal hernias may be caused by a variety of activities or underlying causes, including:

  • strenuous physical activity
  • complications during pregnancy
  • chronic coughing associated with smoking
  • straining during bowel movements
  • natural weakening of the muscles through aging

Inguinal hernias often occur in people with an underlying weakness in the abdominal wall that occured prior to or shortly after birth. This weakness can be caused by the abdominal wall not fully closing.

Although an inguinal hernia can occur in anyone, it’s more common in people born with testicles.

Testicles descend through the inguinal canal after birth. The abdominal wall is supposed to close up after their descent, sealing the abdomen off from the inguinal canal. If this fails to occur, it can cause a weak spot or opening in the abdominal wall in which a hernia can eventually develop.

Contact a healthcare professional if you have consistent pain in your abdomen or groin. You should seek immediate emergency medical care if you have:

  • a hernia bulge that’s increasing in size
  • a hernia bulge that used to go back inside the abdomen but no longer does
  • redness, swelling, or pressure at the hernia bulge
  • severe pain or tenderness at the hernia bulge

Those may be by a sign of a stuck or strangulated hernia, which is a serious and potentially life threatening condition.

You should also seek immediate medical care if you have symptoms of intestinal obstruction, like abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.

To diagnose the type of hernia or injury you may have, a healthcare professional will likely begin by asking about your current symptoms and past medical history.

The healthcare professional will also examine your abdomen and groin area. During this examination, they may gently massage your abdomen and ask if you have any sensitivity or pain while they feel around for a hernia bulge.

The healthcare professional may also ask you to stand or cough to monitor your response or to expose the hernia. If a hernia is identified, the doctor may try to gently move the hernia back into the abdomen.

In some cases, the healthcare professional may recommend imaging tests like an abdominal MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.

In most cases, a sports hernia can be managed through rest and physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen the core and pelvic floor. A doctor may also recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to reduce swelling and pain.

If your injury is more severe and doesn’t improve with rest and physical therapy, surgery may be needed to repair the muscle damage.

Surgery is often needed for full recovery from inguinal hernias. There are several different types of hernia surgeries available. The type of surgery your doctor recommends will usually depend on factors like the size of the hernia, your age, health, and medical history.

Always discuss your recovery plan with your healthcare professional, including when it’s OK to resume sports and other activities. In most cases, you should be able to resume regular activities within 4-8 weeks, regardless of whether you have a sports hernia or an inguinal hernia.

While it’s not always possible to prevent either of these injuries, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat high fiber foods to prevent strain during bowel movements.
  • Prioritize exercises that strengthen the core and pelvic floor.
  • Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for you to lift safely.
  • If you do smoke, consider quitting.

If you suspect a sports or inguinal hernia, see a healthcare professional. They can diagnose your condition and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Hernias are treatable, but they require a diagnosis and treatment plan from a doctor. Recovery may take 4 to 8 weeks.