Runners who experience groin pain after running have likely torn a ligament, tendon, or muscle. The groin is a complex network of tendons, muscles, and ligaments that attach to the pelvis and stabilize the hips and legs with side to side motion.
However, there are different grades of severity and if you catch is early, then you may be able to resolve it quickly. It could simply a be symptom of a stride imbalance, usually due to tight hips.
While groin injuries are more common in sports like soccer, which requires frequent, sudden movements, runners are also susceptible to groin pain. Common causes include overuse, improper training and high intensity sprints without good form.
Groin pain can present both while running and after running. It occurs in all levels of runners, from beginners to elite athletes. And I know you want to run through pain because runners are tough and maybe it will go away…don’t.
The good news is that groin injuries in runners are typically minor and with the proper care and recovery, you can be back on the road in no time.
Left untreated, however, you’re heading for a bigger issue and a much longer recovery.
What is Groin Pain?
The most common reason for a groin strain is a tear in a ligament, muscle, or tendon of the adductor muscles, which run along the upper inner thigh.
The pain may appear suddenly build up slowly over time.
Your groin includes the area in the front of your hips, across your pelvis and along the inner thigh. This is actually three large muscle groups of your abdominals, iliopsoas and adductor.
The adductor muscles bring your leg towards the center line of your body. While running they help to stabilize the pelvis and help to propel you forward with each stride. Thus it’s easy for them to become tight or overworked.
Common Symptoms of a Groin Strain:
- Pain the lower abdomen that radiates into the upper and inner thigh
- Testicular pain in men
- Perineal pain (the area in between the genitalia and the anus)
- Pain in the upper, inner thigh exacerbated by running or changing direction
- Pain with sneezing, coughing, or engaging the abs
- Pain felt after running, especially the following morning
We often don’t think of all these muscles being part of the groin area, but we’re looking at the area between the pubic bone and therefore all of the attached muscles can cause issues.
Other Causes of Groin Pain
A few other things to consider if the symptoms of the groin strain don’t feel spot on.
One issue that can sometimes be confused for a groin strain is osteitis pubis. This is pain in the center of the pelvis and can indeed be caused by the same issues of overuse of the hip and leg muscles, though it’s much more common in sports where you’re moving side to side quickly.
This is not something you should feel in the hip joint. In that case, you need to look at hip injuries.
- Hip injuries can refer pain to the groin area, but you will likely also be feeling a lot of pain around the hip muscles or joint.
- Adductor tendinitis – this may have similar symptoms to a strain, but it’s much more mild and quicker to recover from
- Iliopsoas tendonitis – this will feel more like pain the crease of your hip and usually cause sharp pain on standing
- Inguinal hernia – this occurs near the groin, but will be accompanied by bumps
Is it Ok to Run with a Groin Strain?
Initially, groin pain seems minimal, and pretty easy to run through. However, running through the pain isn’t the best approach. Continuing to run will only cause further damage and that can sideline you for weeks rather than days.
If the pain persists for more than a few days, then it’s time to treat it like an injury and get help.
Sharp pain is always a sign to STOP. Rest, compress, strengthen and slowly easy back in.
9 Causes of Groin Pain after Running
Like most muscle injuries overuse or training incorrectly can lead to pain. Most of the common causes are easily fixed, so take a look and see what you need to adjust to run pain free.
For the typical runner, groin pain is caused by a number of factors. But here are the most common ones and then some ways to resolve it long term!
#1 Trail Running
Adductor strains are somewhat common in trail runners or road runners who head out for a trail run for the first time. This type of injury is really just due to using muscles in a new way and should resolve itself quickly.
Additionally, if your trails are anything like Colorado you may spend the first half climbing and the second half running ALL downhill.
Downhill running can put additional strain on the groin area because the body is working harder to stabilize the pelvis.
- Start out slowly with technical trains
- Ensure you are engaging the core to stabilize yourself
- Get good shoes to help with foot fall and grip
#2 Weak Hips and Glutes
Runners are notorious for not supplementing their running with strength training and this leads to injuries! Sorry, I’m passionate about this particular point.
A runner with strong hips and glutes will have fewer injuries. Too often we fail to activate our glute muscles, which are key for efficiency and proper gait.
This causes imbalances in our hips and glutes that affect our gait. Weak glutes force your hips to sort of drag your leg forward instead of pushing off from the forefoot. Additionally, other muscles like your adductors have to work extra hard to keep your knee aligned and pelvis straight when other areas are week.
Dedicating some time to pre-hab will help keep groin pain and other common running injuries at bay.
Here are a few resources to help you get started.
- 30 Day Core Routine – Hips, Glutes and Abs for Injury Prevention
- Strength Training for Runners
- Hip Strength Exercises
I also include several videos that show you exactly how to do these moves on my YouTube channel.
Overstriding during speed workouts (or regular runs) can lead to groin injuries.
Runners tend to think that long strides mean a faster pace, however, all it really does is slow you down and lead to injury. The extended leg is straight and stiff and affects the body’s ability to cushion the force from landing.
If you’re working on running faster then it’s time to improve your cadence.
This is going to increase the turnover of your legs, while helping to ensure you land under your body. This isn’t about heel striking, it’s about your leading foot landing in front of your center of mass.
👉🏽Checkout this video program: 30 Day Guide to Improve Running Form >>
#4 Lack of Recovery
I’ve discussed at length the importance of incorporating rest and recovery days into training plans.
Not allowing your muscles to rebuild after hard efforts is a common mistake a lot of runners make and it leads to tired and inflamed muscles. Recovery time is where the body grows stronger and more able to handle the next big load of training whether that means miles or weights.
- Make sure you aren’t doing back to back hard workouts
- Look at your total week to ensure no more than 20% is intense (maybe more for those doing less volume)
- Start to think about rest as part of the training plan
#5 Tight Hips
Sitting at a desk all day long does a number on our bodies, especially on our hips. Incorporating daily hip stretches to negate the effects of sitting all day will loosen tight hips and correct poor posture.
When your hip muscles become tight they can pull the pelvis out of alignment. This means your body is working harder to correct that during the run or simply engaging new muscles because your posture is off.
Does Stretching Help a Groin Strain?
Light stretching can indeed help it to feel better, but you must stop if you reach the point of pain. And more importantly you can’t rely on stretching alone. Remember that all of your muscles are connected, so don’t just focus on stretching where there is pain.
You want to focus on stretching your hip flexors, hamstrings and the inner thighs. Along with of course your calves, glutes and low back because why not!
Increasing your pace or distance too quickly without a proper base leads to many injuries in runners. This is why it’s so important that 80% of your weekly running effort is easy, with one to two days of hard work.
While mentally you might be ready to hit it hard, the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments need time to adapt to the work.
If you are constantly super sore after your workouts, find that your fatigue level is increasing, have trouble sleeping or you’ve hit a plateau it’s a good sign that you’ve been over training.
- Learn how quickly can you increase your mileage
- Signs of Overtraining
- Ensure your schedule is a good mix of easy, hard, recovery (and strength!)
#7 Skipping the Warm Up
The warm up might seem like extra unnecessary time, but it’s actually key to preventing muscle strains. This becomes especially important with sprints, intervals or HIIT running.
This is where you are more likely to overstretch a tight muscle.
- Start doing even a 5 minute dynamic warm up
- Add running form drills before any speed workout is just good practice.
#8 Playing Another Sport
We runners tend to move in one direction, forward. Suddenly we get excited to play basketball or soccer with the kids and bam, groin pain.
You’ve asked your muscles to move in a way that they are no longer used to, which can quickly lead to either a strain or simply sore muscles for a few days.
One of the EASIEST things you can do to help avoid this is start adding the lunge matrix to your warm up.
Yup, postpartum running requires some different training. Female groin pain after childbirth could be related to pelvic floor issues.
As the baby grew your body had to accommodate the new weight, which often leads to curvature of the low back, a tilted pelvis, and tension in the upper back. This doesn’t magically resolve after birth.
Instead, some time needs to be spent retraining the body to maintain good posture and then to re-engage the pelvic floor. You may also need to do some work to help the SI joint regain stability. I actually have a belt I wear on occasion to stabilize my hips because my SI joint is hypermobile.
Treating Groin Pain
Groin problems can be finicky and persistent, and you want to stop them as soon as you notice the pain to prevent a full-blown injury. We know that with proper treatment you can end the pain and keep it from recurring.
If you’re in the very beginning stages of a groin injury, rest for a few days. If the pain does not subside after rest, then consider a visit to see your doctor.
See a Sports Dr or Physical Therapist
Honestly, this is my top recommendation for every injury. A PT can quickly assess if you have a weakness that is causing the issue and give you exercises to correct it. You may only need one session.
Additionally, they can help to determine the severity of the issue.
- They’ll test to see if it’s a Grade 1, 2 or 3 strain
- A PT will help you figure out a plan to return to running
- Your PT will provide movements to prevent recurrence of the issue
Improve Hip Strength
Groin pain is often caused by imbalances in the glute, hip flexors, and pelvic muscles, which manipulate your running gait. This video from Dr. Jo demonstrates several exercises that target the right muscles.
In fact, one study showed that 10% of all hockey player injuries were groin strains and not from lack of flexibility, but muscle imbalances. You’ve got to make the core a priority.
I also have a ton of resources for hip and glute strength:
- Pelvic Floor exercises – this is a key place to start
- Glute Bridge
- Glute Activation Exercises
- Resistance band workout for hips and glutes
- Hip strengthening for weak hips
- Correcting tight hips
Return to Running Slowly
Yes, a slow return to running is frustrating, but remember that being sidelined is even worse!
Follow a training plan built for new runners, like a run/walk approach, to get a solid base. Remember that coming back slow and pain free is better than rushing back, getting injured again and starting the process over.
How Long Does it Take a Groin Strain to Heal?
If you’ve hit the point of going from mild discomfort to pain and it’s a muscle strain, then those often take up to 6 weeks to heel.
At this point you absolutely want to connect to a good sports doctor to develop a plan and make sure that is what’s happening.
You will need to stop running.
But that doesn’t mean you have to lose fitness.
There are a lot of things you can be doing during this time from upper body to mobility. A physical therapist will also help you decide exactly which hip, core and glute movements you can do to help resolve and prevent the issue going forward.
Have you experienced groin pain after or while running?
How did you change your routine to prevent it from occurring again?
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