Apart from fostering camaraderie among friends and teammates, playing sports, such as football, rugby, lacrosse, and tennis, offers a lot of health benefits. But body pain and injuries are part and parcel of engaging in sports. One of the common injuries among athletes who play football, rugby, or lacrosse is sports hernia (athletic pubalgia). Although it is called sports hernia, the name itself is a misnomer as the telltale bulge that marks an inguinal hernia is missing in this condition.
Athletes who are diagnosed with sports hernia suffer from a severe and chronic pain in the lower abdomen, groin, and upper thighs. This injury can be treated by doctors, but athletes who want to explore alternative and complementary treatment also have the option to undergo acupuncture, cupping therapy, and tui na. Read on to know more about how painful sports hernias can be treated with the help of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The Basics: Sports Hernia or Athletic Pubalgia
The injury called sports hernia is known to medical practitioners as athletic pubalgia. Among sports professionals, however, the injury is known by a myriad of other names, such as Gilmore’s groin, hockey hernia, groin disruption, and hockey groin.
This injury can affect both male and female athletes who are involved in sports where frequent and sudden movements are required. The movements include pivoting, kicking, sprinting, or twisting. Athletes who play football, lacrosse, hockey, and rugby are particularly vulnerable to this sports injury. Sprinters, wrestlers, and some practitioners of some martial arts are also vulnerable to athletic pubalgia.
Some of the symptoms of sports hernia include:
* Pain that can be felt on one side of the groin only
* Severe and chronic pain in the groin that is relieved only by rest from strenuous activities
* Pain in the groin returns when the athlete returns to strenuous activities
* Sharp pain becomes more pronounced when making sudden movements (kicking, pivoting, sprinting)
* Pain can be felt especially when coughing, sneezing, or when the patient is doing stomach crunches
* Bruising or tenderness may sometimes appear in the lower abdomen or the patient’s upper thigh.
How Is It Different From a True or an Inguinal Hernia?
Although athletic pubalgia is known as sports hernia, it is not a true or an inguinal hernia. Like sports hernia sufferers, people afflicted with an inguinal hernia feel chronic pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen. This ache intensifies when engaging in exercise or other strenuous activities, or even something as normal such as coughing or sneezing.
But unlike sufferers of sports hernia, people who suffer from an inguinal hernia have a bulge on one side of their lower abdomen. There are cases when the protrusion appears on both sides of the groin. The scrotum of some men or young boys may also be swollen.
Diagnosis and Mainstream Treatment of Sports Hernia
Consult your doctor if you suspect that you have sports hernia so they can conduct tests and rule out any other medical conditions that might be the cause of the pain in your lower abdomen. To determine if you have sports hernia, the doctor will require information such as the sports you’re playing, as well as the first time when you felt the pain in your lower abdomen. Other information your doctor will need may include:
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* Whether the pain is alleviated when you rest
* Whether you feel groin pain when you sneeze, cough, or do sit-ups
* Whether you had groin or hip injuries in the past.
To rule out any possibility that you are suffering from an inguinal hernia, the doctor will conduct a thorough visual exam of your lower abdomen, groin, and upper thighs. The visual examination will be followed by palpating the affected areas to determine the source of pain and tenderness. The doctor will also ask you to do some thigh or abdominal exercises to confirm that what you are suffering from is indeed sports hernia.
Further, sports hernia can be confirmed using diagnostic imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging, computerised tomography, ultrasound, or X-ray.
Conventional mainstream treatment of sports hernia include:
* extended rest from the sport which may last anywhere between four to six weeks
* pain relief with the help of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen
* nerve block, platelet-rich plasma, and steroid injections
* physical therapy
How Painful Sports Hernias Can Be Treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine
But there are instances when physical therapy complemented with Traditional Chinese Medicine can be effective in alleviating the pain of sports hernia.
Acupuncture, one of the most important elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is an effective way to relieve the pain caused by sports hernia. It has been proven to alleviate pain which is a symptom of various musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. Acupuncture works by stimulating the production of cortisone in the adrenal gland, as well as of endorphins in the brain. The chemical cortisone helps relieve pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.
Endorphins, on the other hand, helps body cope with stress and pain. Acupuncture is sometimes complemented with moxibustion (the application of heat on a piece of moxa wool placed at the end of a needle) to encourage the body to aid in the healing process.
Once it has been confirmed that a patient is suffering from sports hernia, the acupuncturist will determine the best points to target the affected area. The acupuncturist might choose the affected site to directly treat the injury and relieve pain. But there will be instances when the acupuncturist might choose a different location other than the affected area (especially if it is still tender or painful).
A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner may also use other methods, such as tui na and cupping therapy to treat sports hernia in conjunction with acupuncture. In China, tui na or therapeutic massage has been used for more than 500 years to aid in the healing process of injured muscles and help relieve pain.
Cupping therapy also helps relieve muscle pain and inflammation, making it useful for athletes suffering from sports hernia and other such injuries. During the procedure, multiple spherical glass cups are applied to the affected area and the muscle is drawn up through suction. The cups stay in place for about 15 minutes or less. The suction helps improves blood circulation, loosen stiff muscles, and relieve pain.