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Pulled groin vs. hernia: How to tell which you have (and how to treat it)

Hernia Pain
4 minutes, 7 seconds

You’ve had an aching pain in your groin area for days. Could it be a pulled groin? A hernia? What’s the difference between them, anyway?

Let us break down the answer to your questions. Keep reading to learn about the difference between a pulled groin and a hernia and what you can do to treat them.

What is a pulled groin?

A pulled groin is a strain affecting one of your groin muscles. A strain is an injury that impacts your muscle or tendon when it’s overstretched or torn. Your groin muscles are the muscles that sit where your legs and belly meet.

Pulled groins can have many causes. Oftentimes, they occur when you overextend your leg playing sports or participating in some kind of physical activity. For example, kicking a soccer ball or ice-skating could lead to a pulled groin (groin strains account for nearly 11% of all injuries in professional ice hockey and soccer).

What does a pulled groin feel like?

Here are a few common symptoms of pulled groins:

  • A “pop” sound in the groin that occurs when it’s injured.
  • Sharp groin pain.
  • Leg weakness.
  • Limping.
  • Swelling.
  • Stiffness.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a condition in which one of your organs presses through a weak spot in one of your muscles. This usually happens in the groin or abdomen. Hernias occur when pressure is placed on organs that happen to be located near a weak spot in soft tissue. For example, constipation, lifting heavy objects, and even sneezing can put pressure on the organs. 

When we’re talking about pulled groins vs. hernias, it’s important to note that there are several different types of hernias. Inguinal hernias, which occur in the groin area, are often confused for groin strains. Inguinal hernias account for 75% of abdominal wall hernias.

Other types of hernias, such as ventral hernias, umbilical hernias, spigelian hernias, and flank hernias, occur higher up in the body and do not cause groin pain (although they cause pain elsewhere).

What does a hernia feel like?

Here are some common symptoms of an inguinal hernia:

  • Swelling in the groin or around the testicles.
  • A heavy feeling in the abdomen.
  • Abdomen pain when lifting or bending over.
  • Pressure in the groin.
  • Heartburn.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.

What’s the difference between a pulled groin and a hernia?

Here are a few key differences between these two injuries:

  • Nature of injury — A pulled groin occurs when your groin muscle is overstretched or torn. A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue bulges through a weak spot in your groin muscle.
  • Symptoms — Pulled groins cause a sharp pain in the groin that evolves into stiffness over time, while hernias create swelling that causes a heavy feeling in the groin. Hernias can also squeeze your organs, which may lead to stomach aches, heartburn, vomiting and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Treatment — Muscle strains can be treated with physical therapy and plenty of rest. Hernias don’t heal on their own; they require surgery. However, physical therapy can help you prepare for and recover from hernia surgery.
  • Healing time — It can take anywhere from three to six weeks for a pulled groin to heal, although it may take longer for more severe injuries. Recovering from hernia surgery takes at least three weeks for most people.

How to tell if you have a hernia or a pulled groin

Here are a few things you can do to figure out what is causing that pain in your groin:

  1. Look for swelling — Muscle strains aren’t usually accompanied by swelling. If you pull your groin, you’ll feel a sharp pain that makes your groin weak. If you have a hernia, you’ll have swelling in your groin area accompanied by a heavy, aching and warm feeling that’s tender to the touch.
  2. Try to walk around — Hernias don’t usually affect your ability to walk, although the pain may worsen when you’re standing up. A pulled groin gets stiff and painful, which can leave you walking with a limp.
  3. Keep an eye out for nausea — Depending on which organ is bulging through your muscle, you may experience nausea and vomiting. This is a sign of hernia, not a pulled groin.

Can physical therapy help with pulled groins and hernias?

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for pulled groins. A physical therapist can help you manage your pain symptoms and rebuild your groin muscle. They will also help you build strength and flexibility in your groin muscles, which can help to prevent future injuries.

Hernias require surgery, but PT can help you to recover from surgery by strengthening your pelvic muscles to prevent future tears. If your hernia was caused by lifting or bending in your daily life, your PT specialist can coach you on how to perform these activities while reducing the risk of injury.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for hernias and pulled groins

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to give people access to high-quality PT care. If you want to see a physical therapist in person, we can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your groin pain.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find a physical therapist who can help treat your injury.

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