Cycling With A Groin Strain – How To Manage It


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Injuries are hugely frustrating, and groin strains are no exception. However, if you do not allow time for the strain to heal you risk aggravating the injury further. Even when the groin strain is a result of something other than cycling, due care needs to be given to allow any pain and swelling to subside before getting back onto your bike.

Managing a groin strain is key to preventing the affected muscles from becoming weakened and risking further injury. You should not cycle for at least 48 hours after a groin strain. The severity of the injury will determine your recovery rate and how quickly you may return to your bike.

How much recovery time is required for a groin strain depends on the grade of the strain.

You will want the following:

  • The pain to have subsided
  • To have no swelling
  • And to be fully weight bearing on the affected leg before participating in any intensive workouts.

In this article, I shall look at the causes and symptoms of a groin strain and how you can manage the injury as you return to cycling.

Cycling with a groin strain

What Causes a Groin Strain?

A groin strain is a tear in an adductor muscle in the inner thigh (source).

They usually result from a sudden movement or from overstretching and placing too much stress on the muscle.

Groin strains tend to be more associated with sports such as soccer and athletics where sudden changes of direction and the motion of kicking a ball can overburden the adductor muscle and result in a tear.

However, while groin strains are less common in cycling they can still occur due to the repetitive nature of pedaling and even when mounting or dismounting the bike.

The tear normally occurs where the muscle meets the tendon, but they are not normally too severe.

Symptoms of a Groin Strain

Anyone who has tweaked their groin will instantly recognize the initial pain and subsequent discomfort associated with a groin strain.

It may not seem the worse injury you will suffer, but unless managed properly groin issues can return with annoying regularity.

The main symptoms of a groin strain include:

  • sharp pain on the inner thigh or groin area
  • swelling or bruising around the groin
  • tenderness in the groin
  • pain in groin when walking or running
  • pain or tenderness when you lift your knee

When you suffer a groin strain you may also hear or feel a popping or snapping sensation in the muscle just before you feel the sharp pain.

You must resist the temptation to continue if you are participating in any sporting activity when you pick up a groin strain. This helps prevent a longer recovery time than would otherwise be necessary.

Professional cyclist on road bike managing a groin strain
Although groin strains are not a common injury in cycling, cyclists will have to manage injuries picked up elsewhere

Initial Response to a Groin Strain

A groin strain will normally heal by itself given the right amount of rest and precautionary actions.

Once you feel that sharp pain in the groin area you should look to rest to help reduce the pain as well as any swelling (source).

However, you do not want to immobilize the leg completely. Providing the pain is not severe you can look to gently move your hip for around 10 to 20 seconds per hour for the first day or two after the injury.

After 48 hours you can look to gradually resume your normal daily activities, including work, providing you do not feel increased levels of discomfort from the groin.

However, this is way too early to look to get back into any sporting pursuits and it is best to leave the bike behind just for now.

A gradual resumption of activities helps prevent a weakening of the muscle which could lead to recurrent injury and groin strain issues.

Ice may be recommended to help reduce pain and swelling.

The ice can be wrapped in a damp towel and applied to the area where the pain is felt for between 5 to 10 minutes. This can be repeated every two or three hours over the first couple of days following the injury.

If the pain persists or becomes more severe you should consult with your doctor.

Similarly, talk to your doctor first before using any painkillers. If you continue to experience longer-term groin strain problems then you will need to consult with a doctor or physiotherapist to assess the issue.

Grades of Strain

As with other muscle injuries, the anticipated recovery time depends on the severity of the tear. The degree of severity of a groin strain is measured using three grades.

  • Grade 1 – a small number of the muscle fibers are torn. You may walk without any pain, but you feel pain or discomfort from more physical exertions such as running.
  • Grade 2 – A more significant amount of muscle fibers are damaged, and even walking can be uncomfortable.
  • Grade 3 – Most if not all the muscle fibers are damaged, making any use of the muscle difficult and painful.

Most groin strains resulting from sporting activity tend to be grade 2 strains, with a mild to moderate loss of function within the muscle.

This grade of strain can take up to three months to fully heal, compared to a minimal grade 1 strain which can clear within two to three weeks.

The more severe grade 3 strain requires more patience as it can take at least 4 months and possibly longer to heal.

Managing Your Injury

If you are anything like me you will not be the most patient when it comes to waiting for an injury to heal.

This impatience, particularly when younger, has seen me return to sports way quicker than I should have done, with the inevitable re-occurrence of the injury.

Injuries like groin strains can not be rushed and need to heal completely to avoid long-term muscle weakness.

However, movement will aid recovery from a groin strain, but this movement should not involve any activities that lead to pain within the affected muscle.

Resuming daily activities helps strengthen the muscle again without placing it under undue stress. You should not be contemplating high octane sporting activities that place the groin under excess stress levels until all pain and swelling have gone and you have full movement within the hip.

Returning to the Bike

Cycling while managing a groin strain is a bit of a gray area, as although movement helps recovery by strengthening the muscles in the groin and inner thigh area, the repetitive nature of cycling can aggravate the injury.

You certainly want to avoid the bike for at least the first 48 hours after suffering a groin strain.

As already discussed, recovering from a groin strain involves a gradual return to activities. This is a logic that can also be applied to cycling with a groin strain.

When you return to the bike it should be a gradual and gentle process. No high-intensity sessions or cross-country hikes for now.

You will be monitoring for any pain or discomfort from the groin, and ideally would work with a physiotherapist for the best recovery plan.

A groin strain can feel fine one moment and strike again the next if your return to cycling is too hasty.

Even something as simple as switching off when getting on and off the bike can lead to overstretching the muscle and set your recovery back.

While you can cycle with a groin strain, whether you should will depend on the grade of the tear, any pain felt, and the advised recovery time.

While you can cycle with a groin strain, whether you should will depend on the grade of the tear, any pain felt, and the advised recovery time.

Light cycling to strengthen muscles around groin strain
Gentle riding can help strengthen the muscles around the groin for lighter injuries, but avoid cycling for more serious groin strains

Groin Strain Recovery Movement Exercises

While gentle cycling may be possible with a groin strain, there are movement exercises that can also be done to gently stretch the muscles and aid recovery.

Such exercises are a good way to manage a groin strain while gradually returning to your everyday routine.

You can usually start these exercises a few days after the injury occurs, but this depends on the grade of the muscle tear.

Once again, working with a doctor or physiotherapist helps ensure you are doing the right exercises for the severity of the tear and at the correct point during your recovery.

Some of the exercises which may be recommended include:

  1. Groin squeezes, where you lie down with knees bent and a rolled towel or ball between the knees. You slowly squeeze the towel or ball between the knees for five seconds as hard as you can without causing any pain. Repeat this in sets of 10.
  2. Hip abductor stretch, where you lie down again with bent knees. This time allow the knees to relax and slowly drop to the sides while bringing the soles of the feet together. Look to hold this for 30 seconds before returning to your original position. Repeat three times.
  3. Straight leg rises, which sees you lying on the floor with the unaffected leg bent and the affected leg straight. Press your foot in to the ground and flex the thigh muscle. Raise the affected leg around eight inches off the ground before slowly returning it back down. Look to perform two sets of 15.

These are just a sample of the type of exercises and stretches which can be employed to aid the healing process.

The type of exercise and duration can depend on where you are in your recovery and the grade of tear you suffered. This can be assessed by a physio before recommending the most suitable exercises to help manage your groin strain within your daily routine.

The following video demonstrates the type of exercises you may be advised to utilize:

Prevention

Stretches and warm-ups are an important part of injury prevention, one which many of us probably skimp on if we are honest.

Continuing with a daily stretching routine can help increase the strength and flexibility in the muscles around the hip area and help reduce the risk of a recurring groin strain.

There are also areas where cyclists can appraise their bike set-up to help make them less susceptible to groin strains and groin pain. These are centered around the saddle, with the first point to check being the saddle height.

A saddle position that is too high or too low can apply additional stress on the groin. Ideally, your legs should be slightly bent as they reach the bottom of the pedal stroke.

The saddle normally sits parallel to the ground.

However, if you are experiencing groin pain when cycling you can try slightly tilting the saddle forward to see if this alleviates the issue.

For some cyclists, this slight tilt can improve the comfort of their seated position and reduce the pressure on the muscles.

If you continue to struggle with inner thigh and groin issues you may want to change the saddle completely.

A visit to a specialist cycling store to find a saddle that works best for you could pay huge dividends going forward.

In general, saddles that are firmer and fairly narrow are the better option, but you need to ensure your weight is placed completely through the buttocks rather than the groin region.

One last consideration is what you are wearing. Proper cycling shorts are designed to deal with the repetitive cycling motion.

As well as being padded in the groin area to help alleviate pressure, cycling shorts are made using low-friction materials to reduce the chafing which can cause groin pain.

Final Thoughts

Although groin strains can heal relatively quickly, if you do not manage them properly and rush back to sporting activity too soon, there is a high chance of the injury reoccurring.

A groin strain needs rest for the first 48 hours at least before gradually resuming your daily activities.

While a gradual return to cycling may help strengthen the groin and thigh muscles if the groin pain worsens stop and seek advice from your doctor or a physiotherapist.

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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