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Sportsman hernia: what can we do?

Abstract

Introduction

Sportsman (sports) hernia is a medially located bulge in the posterior wall of the inguinal canal that is common in football players. About 90% of cases occur in males. The injury is also found in the general population.

Clinical presentation

The presenting symptom is chronic groin pain which develops during exercise, aggravated by sudden movements, accompanied by subtle physical examination findings and a medial inguinal bulge on ultrasound. Pain persists after a game, abates during a period of lay-off, but returns on the resumption of sport. Frequently, sports hernia is one component of a more extensive pattern of injury known as ‘groin disruption injury’ consisting of osteitis pubis, conjoint tendinopathy, adductor tendinopathy and obturator nerve entrapment.

Risk factors

Certain risk factors have been identified, including reduced hip range of motion and poor muscle balance around the pelvis, limb length discrepancy and pelvic instability. The suggested aetiology of the injury is repetitive athletic loading of the symphysis pubis disc, leading to accelerated disc degeneration with consequent pelvic instability and vulnerability to micro-fracturing along the pubic osteochondral junction, periosteal stripping of the pubic ligaments and para-symphyseal tendon tears, causing tendon dysfunction.

Radiology

Diagnostic imaging includes an erect pelvic radiograph (X-ray) with flamingo stress views of the symphysis pubis, real-time ultrasound and, occasionally, computed tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but seldom contrast herniography. Other imaging tests occasionally performed can include nuclear bone scan, limb leg measurement and test injections of local anaesthetic/corticosteroid.

Prevention and treatment

The injury may be prevented by the detection and monitoring of players at risk and by correcting significant limb length inequality. Groin reconstruction operation consists of a Maloney darn hernia repair technique, repair of the conjoint tendon, transverse adductor tenotomy and obturator nerve release. Rehabilitation involves core stabilisation exercises and the maintenance of muscle control and strength around the pelvis.

Outcome

Using this regimen of groin reconstruction and post-operative rehabilitation, a player would be anticipated to return to their pre-injury level of activity approximately 3 months after surgery.

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Correspondence to J. F. W. Garvey.

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Garvey, J.F.W., Read, J.W. & Turner, A. Sportsman hernia: what can we do?. Hernia 14, 17–25 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10029-009-0611-1

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Keywords

  • Sports hernia
  • Groin disruption injury
  • Athletic pubalgia
  • Physiotherapy
  • Ultrasound diagnosis