What Causes Groin Pain When Walking?

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A sore or painful groin can make walking challenging and can severely impact your day-to-day function. Because of the complexity of the groin region and the many structures involved, it can be difficult to figure out the origins of your pain. Taking a detailed look at the various conditions that can impact this area can help you identify the culprit and properly treat your symptoms. 

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Causes

From muscular strains to issues with your bones or internal organs, many different things can cause groin soreness while walking. The information below summarizes several of the most frequently seen conditions that can lead to this type of pain.

Groin Strain

One common cause of pain in the groin while you walk is a muscular strain. A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is overstretched or torn, leading to discomfort or pain in the area.

Typically, if the groin is involved, either the hip flexor muscles (located at the very top of your thigh) or the hip adductor muscles (located on the inside of your thigh) are strained as both of these muscle groups attach near this area.

This type of muscular issue is usually the result of a sudden or forceful movement, like sprinting or making a lateral cut while playing sports. More severe strains may even result in a sudden “pop” as you make the movement. This condition is usually graded based on the degree of tearing that occurs at the muscle fibers.

  • Grade 1: Strains involve minimal tearing, with up to 5% of muscle fibers affected. This type of strain would make running painful but usually wouldn’t affect walking.
  • Grade 2: Strains involve a partial tear of the muscle. This type of injury may impact your walking and cause it to be more sore or difficult.
  • Grade 3: Strains cause a full or nearly complete tear of the muscle or tendon. This class of strain can lead to severe pain and may even lead to a noticeable deformity when you touch the area. All daily tasks—including walking—are affected.

Hip Labral Tear

Another condition that can cause pain in the groin region while you walk is a hip labral tear. Your labrum is a ring of cartilage that lines the socket portion (called the acetabulum) of the hip joint. This structure helps with hip mobility and also creates a vacuum-style seal in the joint which adds to its stability. 

Several different issues can lead to a tear in your labrum. Sudden, acute tears can occur during sports like soccer, hockey, or football that involve repetitive or forceful movements. In older individuals and those who are overweight, your cartilage can also thin and wear down over time (called osteoarthritis) leading to labral tearing. Hip impingement (discussed in the next section) can contribute to this issue as well.

Other Symptoms

In addition to groin pain while you walk, labral tears can also lead to:

  • Stiffness
  • Clicking
  • Locking in the hip joint

In addition to groin pain while you walk, labral tears can also lead to stiffness, clicking, and locking in the hip joint.

Depending on the location of the tear, you may also feel buttock soreness. Additionally, more significant tears in the labrum can lead to instability or giving way of the leg while you are on your feet.

Hip Impingement

Hip impingement is another frequently seen cause of pain in your groin, particularly when you walk. As mentioned previously, the issue can also lead to a tear in your hip labrum over time. This condition occurs when a boney deformity on either the socket portion (acetabulum) or the ball portion (femoral head) of the hip joint causes pinching to occur as you move your leg.

Also known as femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), this diagnosis can cause pain and stiffness when walking or sitting too long. Other activities that involve bringing the knee toward your chest or crossing the leg (such as putting on pants or shoes) can also be difficult. While some people are born with this boney abnormality, others develop it later in life.

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia and can lead to groin pain and difficulty walking. This diagnosis arises when fat tissue or even a portion of your intestine push through a weakened abdominal wall, and the abdominal muscles run down towards the groin.

In men, the spermatic cord and blood vessels traveling to the testicles are found in the groin region and may be impacted. In women, the round ligament (which supports the womb) is located in this important area. Typically, men are more commonly affected by inguinal hernias than women.

Besides soreness in the region, an inguinal hernia causes a noticeable bulge or protrusion in the groin or scrotum. This bulge can increase in size over time as the hernia worsens. In addition, activities like lifting can lead to increased pain. You may also experience the sensation of fullness or even an obstruction in your bowels if you have this issue.

Osteoarthritis

In middle and older-aged individuals, the cartilage that lines the acetabulum and the femoral head can begin to thin and deteriorate. This is referred to as osteoarthritis. When this process occurs, new bone builds up in the area of cartilage damage which can cause the hip joint to be misshapen and unstable. As a result of this process, simple hip movements can become stiff and quite painful.

Individuals with osteoarthritis typically complain of hip pain with standing and walking. These symptoms are usually the worst in the morning before the joint “warms-up” and at the end of a long day of activity. Other activities like lifting the leg to put on socks and going up and down the stairs may also be affected.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis occurs when a tendon (the thick ending of a muscle that attaches to a bone) becomes inflamed and irritated. In the groin region, this issue is usually caused by repetitive activities like running or biking. Much like groin strains, if tendinitis is the cause of your pain in this region, the hip flexor or hip adductor muscle groups are usually involved.

The pain from this condition typically comes on gradually and is initially present only during the aggravating activity. As the tendinitis worsens, however, the soreness can become more frequent and can impact activities like walking or climbing the stairs.

Other Causes

While the previous conditions are some of the most common causes of groin pain while walking, they are not the only ones. Several other rarer diagnoses may also be to blame

One such issue is osteitis pubis, which occurs when repetitive shearing forces at the pubic symphysis (the joint that unites the pubic bones in the middle of the groin). This condition is frequently seen alongside an adductor strain and causes gradually worsening pain in the lower abdomen or inside thigh while walking or running.

Stress fractures on your femoral neck (the portion of the bone that connects the shaft to the head of the femur) can also cause groin symptoms in certain situations. This issue is most frequently seen in distance runners or military recruits who place repetitive forces through their legs. Young females and individuals with osteoporosis are also at a higher risk. Groin pain from a stress fracture is usually aggravated by activities like walking or running and improves with rest.

When to See a Doctor

If conservative treatment fails, surgery may be your only option. A hip arthroscopy or a hip replacement may be required if you do not get relief from rest, medication, or physical therapy. In addition, if the pain is from an inguinal hernia, surgery may actually be the only way to treat your condition.

While conservative treatment can help diminish the groin pain you are feeling, it is important to speak to your doctor if your groin is not getting better. Worsening soreness, progressive swelling, weakness or giving way of the leg, pain that wakes you up at night, fever, and incontinence of the bowel or bladder should be reported to your physician immediately as they could indicate a more serious issue is present. 

Diagnosis

Many of the conditions listed above, such as a groin strain, osteitis pubis, or tendinitis, can be properly diagnosed with a thorough clinical evaluation by a doctor. By listening to the presentation of your symptoms and performing an examination of the groin and hip regions, it is usually possible to accurately figure out the cause of your pain.

In certain situations, imaging can also be helpful in verifying a diagnosis. Osteoarthritis and boney abnormalities causing hip impingement are well visualized on an X-ray, which may be used to supplement the physician’s exam.

In other cases, like a hip labral tear, an inguinal hernia, or a stress fracture, imaging using an MRI or CT scan is necessary to properly visualize the structures in the groin and make a diagnosis.

Treatment

In most circumstances, an acute flare-up of groin pain can be managed early on by resting from the aggravating activity and applying ice to the area. While this alone may not solve the problem, it can at least reduce your soreness. Rest is particularly important if your pain is caused by a stress fracture or by osteitis pubis.

In conditions like osteoarthritis, hip impingement, a labral tear, a groin strain, and tendinitis, the first line of defense is usually physical therapy. Working with a therapist to strengthen the muscles in the region and correct any flexibility issues can help reduce the symptoms associated with many of these issues. Pain medication or even a cortisone injection may also be recommended to decrease the soreness.

A Word From Verywell

The information above can help you diagnose your groin issue and begin to treat the pain you are feeling, but it is not meant to replace a doctor’s evaluation. It is important to stay in communication with your healthcare provider about your symptoms so that they can be properly diagnosed and a treatment plan can be developed. 

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Article Sources
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Hip labral tear. Updated March 8, 2018. 

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hip impingement.

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