By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Surgery is frequently required for return to sports if you are diagnosed with a sports hernia
- Sports hernia surgery will generally require about 13 weeks to return to sports, although some elite athletes may be able to return as fast as 4 weeks
A “sports hernia” is an injury to the soft tissue around the groin, typically involving the abdominal muscles and the adductor muscles of the inner thigh. This injury is most commonly a number of partial tears in the area where the tendons insert on to the bones of the pelvis. The injury can go by other names such as “athletic pubalgia” and “core muscle injury”.
In an athlete, this is an injury that will frequently go on to need surgery. Some of the keys to successful return to sport after surgery are:
- Finding a doctor skilled in the diagnosis and surgery for a sports hernia
- Working with a physical therapist after surgery with experience in core muscle rehabilitation
- Following return to sport protocols carefully, and also making sure you’re mentally confident about your return to sport
Most people should aim for a return to sport at about the start of the 13thweek after surgery, although some elite athletes will follow an aggressive protocol that might allow a return in the 4thto 6thweeks after surgery.
Diagnosis and Options
You can read about the general principles involved in diagnosis, as well as a possible nonsurgical rehabilitation option from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. In my experience, if an athlete is diagnosed with a sports hernia the rehab option often is unsuccessful and a large number of these athletes opt for surgery.
The General Recovery Timeline After Sports Hernia Surgery
There will be some variation from surgeon to surgeon, but generally speaking you can expect something like this:
- Week 1: crutches for a few days, then limited walking; start physical therapy
- Week 2: walking up to about 30 minutes
- Weeks 3-4: increase walking, start stationary bike, possible swimming, improve gait, start core stabilization
- Weeks 5-8: normalize range of motion, increase cardiovascular fitness, increase core strength and stabilization
- Weeks 9-12: advance strength+power+agility, start sport specific movement preparation
- Week 13: return to sport
What I’ve provided above is a very rough timeline but generally works well for most students or adult athletes. Elite athletes who have access to 24/7 personnel to assist in recovery may be able to make a substantially faster recovery.
If you follow your surgeon and physical therapist’s guidance the results are typically outstanding, with most published medical studies showing successful return to play at all levels of sports for more than 90% of people.