UK HealthCare

Understanding the Sports Hernia

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 23, 2011) — The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, May 15.  

Understanding the Sports Hernia

By Dr. Scott Roth

Question: What is a sports hernia?

Answer: A sports hernia is a tear in the muscles of the groin. Patients will experience groin pain without a noticeable bulge. This commonly occurs in high level athletes that are involved in twisting or turning activities at full speed, such as soccer, hockey, lacrosse, baseball, track, and basketball and football players. It has also been seen in bull riders. Typically this injury occurs from hyper-extension of the abdomen with hyper-abduction of the thigh.

Q: Does everyone with sports hernia need sports hernia surgery?  

A: Patients with groin pain that occurs following an athletic activity are evaluated with rest, analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications.  If symptoms persist, then additional diagnostic testing is performed. There are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings that support the diagnosis of a sports hernia.   If a sports hernia is diagnosed or suspected, then surgery is generally required.

Q: What is the likelihood of success with sports hernia surgery?  And what are the risks?

A: Success rates for sports hernia surgery are very good.  Both open surgery and minimally invasive operations can be performed for this condition. This is an outpatient procedure.  Patients are able to walk out of the hospital following the procedure.  Potential risks are similar to those that would be seen with a traditional groin hernia repair or other outpatient surgical procedures. 

The operation for a sports hernia may be performed by means of either minimally invasive approaches open surgery.  Based on an individual patient’s circumstances, they may be better suited for one approach over another.  Those that are able to undergo a minimally invasive operation will have reduced postoperative pain and a quicker recovery.  

Q: After sports hernia surgery, what are the limitations?

A: Generally patients are limited to walking activities for the first week. With the assistance of a physical therapist, patients are able to gradually increase their activities and should be able to resume full unrestricted sports activities within six weeks of their operation.

Q: Can the physical therapy and/or rehabilitation be done with my local therapist?

A: An experienced physical therapist can help with the postoperative recovery.  Many times, patients may receive physical therapy closer to home following a sports hernia operation.

Q: How long until I can play again after sports hernia surgery?  

A: Patients should be able to resume unrestricted sports activity six weeks after the procedure.  Many competitive athletes are able to return to activities sooner.  The decision to return to full unrestricted athletic activity is based on the progress the patient makes with physical therapy.  Highly competitive professional athletes often return to activities sooner than recreational athletes.  If a patient is able to delay returning to sports activities for six weeks, I would generally recommend this.  However, in some circumstances, competitive athletes who have recovered uneventfully will return to activities as soon as four weeks following surgery.

Q: How can I prevent a sports hernia? 

A: Adequate warm ups and stretching before and after athletic training and sports activities will help minimize the risk of sports related injuries. 

Persons with questions or concerns about sports hernias may contact UK HealthCare's Gastrointestinal Surgery Clinic or schedule an appointment at 859-257-1000 or toll free 1-800-333-8874. More information can also be found at

Dr. J. Scott Roth is chief of gastrointestinal surgery and director of minimally invasive surgery at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and associate professor of surgery in the UK College of Medicine.