Groin injuries: a painful reality for Olympians and other athletes

Groin injuries are certainly not foreign to the weekend warrior playing a game of pickup basketball, soccer, or hockey. These injuries do not discriminate, as they have a major impact on elite athletes of all sports. As just one example, groin and abdominal injuries were reported to affect as much as almost 20% of NHL players in the ‘96-’97 season, with a 23% recurrence rate1. The impact of groin injuries will also play a major role in the Sochi Olympics.

In the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, one of the most exciting (and surprising) stories was the USA Men’s Hockey Team making a run to the Gold medal game. One of the heroes in 2010 was Buffalo Sabres goaltender, Ryan Miller. For the Sochi Games, many American hockey fans are looking to Los Angeles Kings goaltender, Jonathan Quick, to carry Team USA on another historic run. Quick has enjoyed great success since the 2010 Olympics, winning a Stanley Cup and the Con Smythe Trophy for MVP of the playoffs in 2012. That success will be difficult to duplicate in Sochi since Quick is coming off a serious groin injury that caused him to miss 24 games from November to early January.

But you don’t have to be an Olympian to suffer the agony of a groin injury. The good news? Those of us who play sports can learn how to reduce our own risk, thanks to a better understanding of some key muscles. Research shows us that muscle imbalances play a major role in injuries to the groin and abdominal area. A study done by Tyler et al showed that NHL players who suffered groin injuries had 18% lower hip adductor (groin muscles) strength than healthy players. Healthy players had hip adductor strength that was 95% of their abductor strength, compared to 78% in injured players. Also, there was no correlation with flexibility of adductor muscles to injury.2

So what does this mean? For one thing, you can stop all of that groin stretching since it won’t prevent injury and doesn’t feel very good anyway. Instead, by strengthening your adductors, you can reduce your risk of suffering a groin strain.3 A few exercises to get you started are sumo squats and a lunge matrix including front, side, and reverse lunges.

You also shouldn’t forget about the core, as this will play a role in pelvis positioning and any lower body injury. It gets a little more complicated from here, but a forward pelvis tilt depicted in the picture below will put your adductors in a lengthened position, predisposing them to injury. Also, unpublished data by McGill in 2009 linked holding a sidebridge for more than 70 seconds to reduced injury in NHL players, including no sports hernias. You can also make your core strengthening more functional by trying the Pallof press exercise seen here:

So the next time you’re ready to go out onto the playing field or ice rink, try some of these exercises to keep your groin injury-free!