3 Exercises to Heal an Adductor Strain

Everything you need to know to fix a pulled groin…

By Coach E

3 exercises for adductor strain rehab

There are few things in life that will slow you down like a groin injury.

Whether it’s because of injury you incurred playing a sport or as a result of overtraining/ improper form, the pain of a strained groin will make walking and running difficult.

If you’ve got a strained adductor - or pulled groin and want to get better as quickly as possible; keep reading to learn 8 do’s and don’ts that will help you heal fast and 3 exercises and techniques to aid your recovery.

The Anatomy of Your Adductor Muscles

The hip adductors comprise a group of five muscles that form the bulk of the inner thigh.  Anatomically, the main function of the adductors is to bring the thighs together, however, as you’ll discover in a sec, there’s more to them than that.

The hip adductors comprise a group of five muscles that form the bulk of the inner thigh. Anatomically, the main function of the adductors is to bring the thighs together, however, as you’ll discover in a sec, there’s more to them than that.

The various heads of the hip adductors are known as:

  • Adductor Brevis
  • Adductor Longus
  • Adductor Magnus

There are also two lesser known deep muscles that have a similar line of action as the main group that most people are unaware of: the gracilis and the pectineus.

What are the Short and Long Adductors?

The adductor muscle group runs along the inside of the thigh, with the pectineus, adductor brevis and adductor longus (known as the short adductor muscles) going from the pubic bone to your mid-thigh.

The gracilis and adductor magnus stretch from the pelvis to your inner knee and are called the long adductors.

Hip Adductor Muscles - Walking and Sprinting

The Adductors At Work in Real Life

Looking at the biomechanics of the adductors you’d think that all they’re responsible for is hip adduction i.e. bringing your legs closer together when they’re spread out wide like in a straddle position.

And while they perform this action, it isn’t a movement that’s often used in every-day life.

Think about it – when was the last time you had to adduct your hip, other than for some exercise you’ve done in the gym?

The main job of the adductors is to stabilize your hips during walking – without proper function, you’d fall over.

But these muscles are much more complex than that and when looking at EMG studies [1], the adductors contribute to both hip flexion AND hip extension during running as you can see from the EMG study of sprinting below:

adductor strain EMG study

This study goes to show the important role the adductors play during sprinting by contributing to propelling yourself forward via hip extension as well as maintaining alignment of the leg as it swings forward just before contact with the ground.

Thus, the simple hip adduction machines like the one you see below and that are ever so popular in commercial gyms are definitely NOT the most functional way to train this important muscle group. [2]

adductor strain workout

Using Your Adductors for Sports

Groin strains are a common problem among the physically active population (but especially so in competitive sports).  The sports that have the highest risk of causing a strained groin are:

  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Hockey
  • Basketball
  • Tennis

Each of these sports is adductor intensive, involving frequent moves side to side and making sudden changes in direction while sprinting at full speed.

What about Weight-Lifting?

In the gym the most common exercise that results in groin strains is the Lunge and all its variants.

Just look back to the EMG study showing the adductors at work during sprinting – they fire most when driving yourself forward and when the leg is swinging forward just before your foot hits the ground.

adductor strain workout 2

So if you’ve got an adductor strain, definitely AVOID lunges until it’s healed up (but we’ll get to all the do’s and don’ts in a sec).

Symptoms of a Strained Adductor

You already know the symptoms – tenderness in the muscles somewhere along the middle of the thigh.

Like all muscle strains, they’re classified according to severity:

  • Grade 1 is a minor adductor tear that causes discomfort, but you can still walk without much pain
  • Grade 2 is going to be much more painful and you’ll likely see bruising and swelling
  • Grade 3 is a horror show; you’ve suffered a complete (or close to complete) rupture, this level of injury is unimaginably painful but luckily this is uncommon [3]

What Causes Adductor Strain?

Often a strained groin will be the result of failing to warm-up or stretch properly before running or playing a sport that involves sprinting.

So if you find groin strains a common occurrence, you need to get to the root cause and fix the overall function of your hips including addressing muscular imbalances, mobility deficiencies, and muscles that don’t activate properly.

For example, if your hamstrings are weak or aren’t firing properly, the adductors will try to make up for them and because of this, they’ll be called upon for movements that they’re biomechanically inefficient for.

This causes overload and can result in DOMS just like when you overload your biceps from 10 sets of Bicep Curls (please don’t do 10 sets of bicep curls!)…

And then when you go to sprint where the adductors are needed to be at peak performance, they’re already sore or fatigued and a strain can result.

My Experience

Growing up playing hockey, before this new era of movement, training and coaching that we now live in (and it’s advancing rapidly), I’ve had many groin strains.

At the time I had no idea what caused them but now, I understand that a lack of strength, control and mobility is the reason.

Adductor Strain - Playing Hockey

So, what was I told to do from coaches, teammates and anyone else who felt like sharing their advice?

“You gotta stretch more.”

“You need more flexibility.”

“Stretch your groin, son!”

Now that I understand the body, I realize the fatal error in this advice.

A strained/pulled muscle is like a rope that’s starting to fray and tugging on it and stretching it isn’t going to help it get better.

If you’ve already suffered a strained groin follow this list of do’s and don’ts to heal up and return to activity in no time.

What You Should and Shouldn’t Do to Recover Fast

Don’ts

Let’s start with the don’ts, because the last thing you want to do is make your injury worse:

  • Don’t perform static stretches for your strained groin! – Static stretches will stress out already damaged tissue, which will cause further damage
  • Avoid performing any movements that hurt i.e. forget about “no pain no gain,” it’s more like when you say “doctor it hurts when I do that, what should I do?” and the doctor tells you “don’t do that.”
  • Don’t take pain killers to the point you can’t feel anything – this will numb you to the pain and prevent you from realizing when a movement is irritating your injury
  • Don’t rush your return to regular activities/training – it’s better to overestimate the time you need and be pleasantly surprised than underestimate and be disappointed

Do’s

Do Ice, Compress, Elevate within first 24hours: 15 minutes throughout day)…

After that:

  • Ice if you trigger the pain somehow or if throbbing and swelling still present
  • Pain-free movement, starting with isometric contractions of the adductors with your hips in flexion and knees in flexion. Squeeze your knees together and hold for one slow breath. Repeat with your hips in extension and knees in extension
  • Apply gentle heat once throbbing and swelling subside and you’re dealing with more stiffness and want to speed rehab
  • Do use pain killers if absolutely necessary but the minimal amount and for as short a time as possible – they are your neuromuscular alarm alerting you to damaging movements that you shouldn’t do
  • Do use anti-inflammatory supplements: turmeric (PuraThrive is my favourite), fish oil
  • Keep moving, walking is okay, but use pain as your guide, no sudden or quick movements until your pain has resolved and you have had time to strengthen
  • Do learn how to build your hips up to be stronger, quicker and more intelligent than ever before

3 Exercises to Heal an Adductor Strain

Phase 1: Hip ER Pushup

It’s important to continue working muscles when they’re strained as it causes quicker healing. This exercise is to be used early on to ensure the adductors don’t atrophy and to help facilitate healing through increased blood flow. Because it trains the adductors isometrically at their shortened range, it won’t cause further strain.

Phase 2: Hip Mobility Exercises to Wake Up Dead Hips

Once pain begins to diminish, you’re ready to start working the adductors at their lengthened range and this technique will help you do that but because it’s isometric, is safe to work.

Full instructions on how to do these exercises in Episode 4 of the Active Office Worker Series.

Phase 3: Stretch for Hamstrings and Groin

In the last phase of healing, you can begin implementing concentric and eccentric contractions of the adductors to build strength throughout the range and increase resilience. This technique will do just that.

There is no injury that causes more problems in every aspect of your day like a strained groin.  You can’t realize just how much these muscles are used until you injure them.  Follow these recommendations to keep from making it worse, while speeding your recuperation and getting back into the swing of things.

Wondering how long it will take for an adductor strain to heal?

It depends upon how severe the tear is. If you have a grade one tear you can be back at it in 7-10 days. After a grade 2 strain if takes 3-6 weeks, and a grade 3 strain up to 3 months to heal.

This trick will help you get back on track faster, if you have a lot of bruising and swelling (higher grade tear), wait until the swelling goes down and you can comfortable place your fingers between the muscles. Once the swelling is under control, one of the most important things to do for you adductors when they are injured is to make sure that they are able to glide properly.

  • This involves placing your fingers around your adductors, with the finger tips between the hammies at the back, and the quads/sartorius at the front.
  • Start with your hip and knee flexed to 90°.
  • Once you have your fingers in position, then straighten your knee.
  • Start with your fingers close to your hip and work your way down to your knee.

Dr. Erin Boynton MD, FRCS
Chief Medical Officer,
Precision Movement

Thoughts from Dr. B

With practice, you will start to feel the muscles sliding over your fingers as you flex and straighten your knee. Follow this up with a quick isometric squeeze of your adductors and you will be good to get into the 3 exercises described in the article.

Dr. Erin Boynton MD, FRCS
Chief Medical Officer,
Precision Movement

These exercises are great as they get to the root cause of why your adductor was injured in the first place, remember it is all about recovery and preventing the next injury!

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This article was reviewed and updated on March 10, 2021 by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erin Boynton, MD, FRCS to include new research and information on latest surgical developments. Read more about Dr. B here.

Resources:

[1] Wiemann, K., & Tidow, G. (1995). Relative activity of hip and knee extensors in sprinting - implications for training.

[2] Vigotsky, A. (2017). Are the Seated Leg Extension, Leg Curl, and Adduction Machine Exercises Non-Functional or Risky?.

[3] Nicholas, S. J., & Tyler, T. F. (2002). Adductor muscle strains in sport. Sports Medicine, 32(5), 339-344.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

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