An abdominal wall tear, also called an athletic pubalgia, is a painful injury that can occur during a sport or activity like running. Although it is commonly referred to as a “sports hernia,” it is not really a hernia as defined by medical classification. Athletic pubalgia is an overuse injury that occurs when you place repetitive stress on the abdominal tissues. Because the condition is extremely painful and debilitating, it’s essential to understand why it develops and how it can be treated.
A sports hernia develops when the soft tissue in the lower abdomen or groin tears. Frequent running, especially if you tend to twist or suddenly change directions while you run, can trigger the injury. Other vigorous sports that require you to plant your feet and twist, like wrestling, football and soccer, can also cause sports hernias. These tears are different than traditional hernias; the intestine does not protrude through the abdominal tear and you will not notice a visible bulge in the groin or abdomen.
Sports hernias typically cause severe pain in the rectus abdominis, the muscle located in the middle of your abdomen. The pain may subside when you stop running, but it will reoccur when you resume your jogging routine or twist your torso. Pain may also be noticeable when you contract your abdominal muscles, cough or sneeze. You may also notice a tearing sensation in the abdomen at the time of injury.
Immediately stop running if you suspect you have a tear in your abdominal wall and rest until the pain subsides. See your doctor as soon as possible, who will be able to diagnose the severity. Apply an ice pack or cold gel pack to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time, three times a day to ease symptoms. Wrap your abdomen with a compression bandage to help reduce swelling and pain. Anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen and ibuprofen can also help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy exercises to help rehabilitate your abdominal muscles.
Don’t ignore a sports hernia. Some severe cases may require surgery. Without treatment, hernias can lead to debilitating and chronic pain that prevents you from resuming your running routine. Strengthen your abdominal muscles to prevent sports hernias from reoccurring. Once completely healed, perform abdominal exercises that isolate your rectus abdominis such as crunches, planks and medicine ball rotations. Aim for at least 10 repetitions of each exercise every other day.
- National Council on Strength & Fitness: What is a Sports Hernia
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Sports Hernia
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Sports Hernia (Athletic Pubalgia)
- SportsInjuryClinic.net: Abdominal Muscle Strain or Inflammation
- The American Council on Exercise: Should I Train My Abdominals Every Day? Also, What Ab Exercises are Best?
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