What Causes Groin Pain—And How to Manage It

<p>Phynart Studio / Getty Images</p>

Phynart Studio / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Alexandra Dubinskaya, MD

Groin pain is discomfort between where your abdomen ends and your upper thighs begin. The area around your groin includes vital organs such as your urinary system (kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra), the testes (in people assigned male at birth), and ovaries and uterus (in people assigned female at birth). Your pain could also relate to your thigh muscles or lower abdominal muscles.

If you’re experiencing groin pain, learning what could cause it is essential. Your healthcare provider can then treat it and help you manage your discomfort long-term. Here are a few things you can expect as you explore causes and treatments.

Symptoms

Groin pain symptoms will differ depending on the cause and the person. Your anatomy can vary depending on many factors, resulting in varying causes of discomfort around the lower abdominal area.

First, you must reflect on the type of pain you’re experiencing. Has it just recently started? Has it been a long-term part of your daily life? Acute pain is any discomfort that lasts up to 30 days. If it lasts longer than three months, you’re dealing with chronic pain.

Discomfort around the groin may feel like an ache and intensify into a sharp pain pinpointed in a specific area. It may grow even more painful when you move. The pain can also extend from its source to encompass the entire groin.

Potential Causes of Groin Pain

There are numerous causes of groin pain, depending on your lifestyle and health history. These are the most common causes.

Pulled Muscles, Ligaments, or Tendons

Intense physical activities, like playing sports, lifting weights, or doing physically demanding labor, can lead to pulled muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The adductor complex is an area of three muscles in the groin that can cause pain and discomfort when strained. This can happen suddenly, like when you overextend this area of your body, or through wear and tear over time.

Swelling may accompany these causes of groin pain and it will likely feel worse when you’re physically active. Discussing your activities with your healthcare provider can help them evaluate your groin pain more effectively.

Hip Joint Injury

Your ball-and-socket synovial joint, which is commonly referred to as your hip joint, can be injured in a variety of ways. Traumatic incidences (such as vehicle accidents and sports injuries) and overuse are more common causes of hip joint injuries. The result is weakness in the hip and throbbing pain in the groin area. If you recently fell or experienced a blow to your hip, that could also cause your discomfort.

Hernia

There are two types of potential hernias in the groin region—inguinal and femoral. Inguinal hernias are holes in the lower abdominal wall that allow your intestines to push through against your skin. They’re the most common type, making up 75% of hernia repairs in the U.S. every year.

Femoral hernias occur around the pubic bone (one of the three bones of the pelvis) or right above the thighs. Between 27%-43% of men develop a femoral hernia at some point, compared to 3%-6% of women.

Ovarian Cysts

If you have ovaries, it is possible that your groin pain is being caused by ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that occur in the ovaries and sometimes along the fallopian tubes and uterus. They might cause you to experience pain in your upper thigh and groin area alongside bloating and cramping.

Ovarian cysts can occur due to a variety of reasons. Pregnancy, hormonal changes, and pelvic infections are common causes of cysts. People with endometriosis are also more likely to experience cysts called endometriomas.

Sometimes, cysts can occur as benign or cancerous tumors or due to unreleased eggs. which form what's called a follicular cyst. Follicular cysts are very small and do not cause pain. Follicular cysts do not occur next to cancer.

Inflammation

Inflammation is your body's natural response to harmful substances, such as viruses, bacteria, or damaged cells, among others. Inflammation is a warning sign, indicating that the cells or organs affected need help. They call for help by activating the nervous system, which can cause pain wherever the inflammation is, including the groin.

If you are experiencing groin pain, you may have inflammation in the lowest portions of your small or large intestines, testicles, lymph nodes, or hips. Hip inflammation could indicate undiagnosed arthritis, especially if your groin pain is chronic.

Kidney Stone

Kidney stones, or small mineral deposits that form in your kidneys, can cause groin pain. You're more likely to get a kidney stone if you eat food high in sodium (salt), take certain prescription medications (such as diuretics), or have a history of kidney stones in your family. The stones block urine from exiting your kidney until the stone is able to pass through your urethra. Kidney stone can occur in all genders, though they’re more common in men due to lifestyle factors.

Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria get into the urethra, causing an infection in the organs of your urological system, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. UTIs cause inflammation in your urinary tract that can cause pain while peeing. This pain can migrate to the groin area.

Anyone can develop UTIs, though it’s more common in people with vaginas due to the urethra being shorter, making it more likely that bacteria can travel through the urethra to the other organs within your urological system.

Blood Flow Complications

Your blood will clot as a normal part of the coagulation process that occurs to stop bleeding. However, sometimes tiny blood clots can get stuck in your veins. These clots can flow through the femoral artery (which directs blood to the lower part of your body) or other veins in the groin region. They may cause pain in your upper thigh and groin area.

Pinched Nerves

A pinched nerve occurs when excess pressure is applied to a nerve and the surrounding area, which can have many potential causes. You may pinch a nerve in your groin area during physical activities or while maintaining poor posture for long periods. This can cause pain along tissues or tendons around the groin. This pain often only lasts briefly, although it can be a recurring challenge for some people. A pinched nerve can cause tingling, aching, or numbness around the affected area.

Postpartum Pain

Groin pain is a common occurrence both during and after pregnancy. Your pelvic muscles shift as contractions occur during labor to make room for the baby’s head in the birth canal. They shift back into place after the birth, but the experience can cause achiness and general discomfort in your groin.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your groin pain or discomfort lasts longer than a few days or disrupts your quality of life, call your healthcare provider. It is especially important to seek care if you’re experiencing groin pain during pregnancy or ongoing treatments like chemotherapy, or if you had a sudden injury and you think you may have a hernia. Groin pain could indicate an underlying health concern that might complicate your current condition.

Diagnosis

When you visit your healthcare provider, they will ask questions to better understand what might be causing your groin pain. They’ll review the potential causes listed above and may consider more rare causes like cancerous growths. They will likely conduct a pelvic exam to assess the area. During the exam, they’ll gently palpate around the pelvic region with their fingertips. They may also examine the vaginal canal or testes if they suspect the problem may be related to your reproductive organs.

An ultrasound or X-ray, which are both types of imaging tools used to view your internal organs, might be necessary if your healthcare provider believes they’ll find a growth, hernia, or blood clot. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be ordered if they suspect that you have a soft tissue injury.

Your healthcare provider may recommend a blood test for further evaluation. A blood test could help diagnosis a general infection, among other potential indicators of various illnesses.

Treatments for Groin Pain

There are numerous treatments for groin pain based on the likely cause. Muscle strains require a few weeks or months of rest. If you have a muscle strain, it is best to avoid strenuous exercise or frequent movement until your healthcare provider says otherwise. They may also recommend over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).

If you need additional pain relief, cold compresses like an ice pack can reduce swelling that may be contributing to your groin discomfort.

If these conservative pain relief methods don’t work, prescription corticosteroids, which are commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, may be prescribed to treat your inflammation more effectively. Your healthcare provider can prescribe them, if necessary.

Additionally, physical therapy, which involves working with a professional who can help with strength and mobility, can be helpful in some cases. Therapy to strengthen the muscles during hernia recovery or after giving birth may reduce your pain over time.

In some cases, groin pain treatments may require surgery. You might need a hernia repair or tumor removal, depending on the cause of your discomfort.

Prevention

You can avoid groin pain related to tissue or muscle tears by doing dynamic stretches before physical activities and static stretches afterward. Warm-up routines ease the muscles into movement, so strenuous movement or weight lifting is easier to manage.

Drinking more water also makes kidney stones less likely. This helps your body flush waste through your kidneys so nothing builds into blockages.

Many causes of groin pain, such as pinched nerves, ovarian cysts, or infections, are difficult to prevent. However, discussing any areas of pain or discomfort with your healthcare provider can lead to early evaluation and assessment, helping to ensure you don't experience complications due to these issues.

Living With Groin Pain

Chronic groin pain is manageable with coping strategies. Keep up-to-date with your healthcare provider regarding your pain levels and the location of your discomfort. They can recommend strategies like stretching, maintaining proper posture, improving your diet, or attending physical therapy, if needed.

If your groin pain worsens, it could indicate a developing health condition. It might also mean you have new muscle injuries. It depends if you’re taking it easy for a multi-week or month-long recovery and continuing your physical activity.

Groin pain treatment is effective when followed properly. Give your body rest and keep an open mind to finding better solutions by trying new recovery strategies. Sometimes, healthcare providers are unsure which potential cause is behind their patient’s groin pain. It may take more than one attempt to find the recovery solution that’s right for you.

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