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Athletic Pubalgia (Sports Hernia): Presentation and Treatment

      Abstract

      Often referred to as a “sports hernia” or “core muscle injury,” athletic pubalgia is a common yet poorly defined athletic injury. It is characterized by abdominal and groin pain likely from weakening or tearing of the abdominal wall without evidence of a true hernia. Symptoms can appear acutely or insidiously, primarily as groin and lower abdominal pain that can radiate toward the perineum and proximal adductors. Pain is exacerbated by athletic activity such as kicking, cutting, and sprinting. The pubis acts as a pivot point between the abdominal musculature and lower-extremity adductors, and therefore, pain with palpation over the symphysis or its surrounding structures is typical in athletic pubalgia. Symptoms can be reproduced during a resisted sit-up or with a forced cough or sneeze. Clinical examination should include an evaluation of articular hip pathology to identify underlying femoroacetabular impingement syndrome. Magnetic resonance imaging can aid in ruling out other pathologies and identify specific findings including tears or strains of the ipsilateral rectus abdominis or adductor tendons. Lidocaine injections can be used to localize the source of the pain. First-line treatment consists of a period of rest and anti-inflammatories, followed by a course of focused physical therapy. If conservative therapy fails to allow an athlete to return to activity, a variety of open or laparoscopic surgical techniques can be used. The surgical principles include reattachment of the rectus abdominis and repair or reinforcement of the abdominal musculature in layers to re-create the inguinal ligament anatomy. At times, variations of pelvic floor repair are performed or the addition of an adductor tenotomy or repair is used concomitantly. Numerous studies report a high rate of return to play after surgical management. Diagnosis and appropriate treatment of coexisting femoroacetabular impingement syndrome are crucial to a successful return to athletic activity.
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