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Research Odyssey on assessing & treating Pubalgia

Research Odyssey on assessing & treating Pubalgia
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Pubalgia, also known as sports hernia or athletic pubalgia, is a painful condition that affects the groin area. It is a common injury in athletes, particularly those who play sports that involve repetitive twisting and turning movements, such as soccer, hockey, and football. In this article, we will discuss the causes, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of pubalgia, as well as the role of physical therapy in managing this condition.

Anatomy and Pathophysiology of Pubalgia

Pubalgia is caused by a strain or tear of the soft tissues in the lower abdomen and groin area, including the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, and adductor muscles. The adductor muscles are a group of muscles located on the inner thigh that are responsible for moving the leg toward the midline of the body. When these muscles become strained or torn, it can cause pain and discomfort in the groin area.

The rectus abdominis muscle is a long, flat muscle that extends from the pubic bone to the sternum, and it is responsible for flexing the trunk and bending the body forward. The external oblique and internal oblique muscles are located on the sides of the abdomen and are responsible for rotating and bending the trunk. When these muscles are strained or torn, it can cause pain in the lower abdomen and groin area.

Causes of Pubalgia

Pubalgia can be caused by a variety of factors, including repetitive twisting and turning movements, overuse, muscle imbalances, and weakness of the core muscles. It can also be caused by a sudden increase in physical activity, such as starting a new sport or training program without proper conditioning.

Clinical Presentation of Pubalgia

The clinical presentation of pubalgia is characterized by pain and discomfort in the lower abdomen and groin area. The pain may be sharp or dull and may worsen with activity, especially with twisting and turning movements. Patients may also experience pain when coughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects.

The clinical presentation of pubalgia can vary widely depending on the underlying cause. Patients with pubalgia often complain of pain in the groin area that is exacerbated with activity, particularly movements that involve twisting, turning, or kicking. The pain may be unilateral or bilateral, and can be described as sharp, dull, or aching. Some patients may also experience a sensation of stiffness or tightness in the groin region.

How to Diagnose Pubalgia

The diagnosis of pubalgia is based on a combination of clinical examination, imaging studies, and patient history. Physical examination may reveal tenderness in the lower abdomen and groin area, as well as weakness in the core muscles. Imaging studies, such as MRI or ultrasound, can help confirm the diagnosis by showing evidence of muscle tears or strain. However, it is important to note that imaging studies may not always be necessary for the diagnosis of pubalgia.


A thorough physical examination is necessary to diagnose pubalgia.

The physical therapist will assess the patient's range of motion, strength, and flexibility. They will also perform special tests to assess for hip, pelvis, or spine pathology.

Physical Examination of Pubalgia

Physical examination is an essential component of the diagnostic process for pubalgia. During the examination, the clinician should assess for tenderness in the pubic symphysis, adductor muscles, and inguinal ligament. Range of motion testing should also be performed to evaluate for any limitations or discomfort.

Provocative tests are commonly used to diagnose pubalgia. These tests involve reproducing the patient's pain through specific maneuvers or movements. Some examples of provocative tests for pubalgia include:

  • The Valsalva maneuver: The patient is instructed to hold their breath and bear down as if having a bowel movement. This maneuver can reproduce pain in patients with pubalgia.

  • The squeeze test: The clinician compresses the patient's thighs together, which can elicit pain in the pubic symphysis region.

  • The resisted adduction test: The patient lies on their back and is asked to bring their legs together while the clinician resists the movement. This test can elicit pain in patients with pubalgia.

Imaging Studies:

Imaging studies can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis of pubalgia and ruling out other potential causes of groin pain. Some common imaging studies that may be ordered include:

  • X-ray: X-rays are often used to evaluate for bony abnormalities such as stress fractures or arthritis.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI is a useful imaging modality for evaluating soft tissue structures, such as the adductor muscles and inguinal ligament.

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound can be used to evaluate for muscle tears or hernias.

Treatment of Pubalgia

The treatment of pubalgia typically involves a combination of rest, physical therapy, and medication. Rest is important to allow the affected muscles to heal and to prevent further damage. Physical therapy is an essential component of treatment, as it can help to strengthen the core muscles and improve flexibility. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to help alleviate pain and inflammation.

How Can Physical Therapy Manage Pubalgia?

Physical therapy is an effective treatment option for many patients with pubalgia. The goals of physical therapy are to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent recurrence of symptoms. Some key components of physical therapy for pubalgia include:

  • Rest: Rest is a crucial component of managing pubalgia. Patients should avoid activities that exacerbate their symptoms and allow adequate time for healing.

  • Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises are an essential component of physical therapy for pubalgia. Exercises that target the adductor muscles, hip abductors, and core muscles can be particularly helpful in reducing pain and improving function.

    Strengthening the adductor muscles can help to improve stability and reduce strain on the soft tissues in the groin area. Exercises such as side lunges, squats, and leg presses can be effective in improving adductor strength.

  • Core Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, external oblique, and internal oblique muscles, can help to improve stability and reduce strain on the adductor muscles. Exercises such as planks, side planks, and sit-ups can be effective in improving core strength.

  • Stretching exercises: Stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and range of motion, which can be particularly beneficial in patients with tight hip flexors or adductor muscles.

  • Manual therapy: Manual therapy techniques such as massage and joint mobilization can be helpful in reducing pain and improving mobility in patients with pubalgia.

  • Neuromuscular re-education: Neuromuscular re-education involves exercises that help patients improve their movement patterns and body mechanics. This can be particularly helpful in patients with pubalgia who have developed compensatory movement patterns.

  • Modalities: Modalities such as ice, heat, and electrical stimulation can be helpful in reducing pain and promoting healing.

  • Return-to-play protocols: should be followed to ensure that the athlete can return to their sport safely and without the risk of re-injury. The physical therapist may also provide education on proper technique and injury prevention strategies.

Surgery may be necessary in some cases of pubalgia. However, conservative management should be attempted first, as surgery is associated with longer recovery times and a higher risk of complications.

To wrap up

Pubalgia is a complex and multifactorial condition that can be challenging to manage. It is essential that physiotherapists have a thorough understanding of the anatomy and biomechanics of the pelvis and hip region, as well as the diagnostic and treatment strategies for pubalgia. A comprehensive rehabilitation program that includes manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and patient education is necessary for successful management of this condition.

Early recognition and treatment are key to achieving a full recovery and returning to sport or activities of daily living. Collaboration between the physiotherapist, athlete, and other healthcare professionals is essential to ensure a safe and effective return to activity.


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Written by Kyle van Heerden

Online Educator at Research Raconteur

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