If you've ever finished a hard workout, you've likely had some post-exercise pain. But, inner thigh pain that significantly affects your ability to walk could be a sign of a serious muscle injury.
It's important to understand the difference between "normal" exercise soreness and actual muscle injury, such as a strain or tear.
Read more: Common Groin Injuries From Squats
Anatomy and Inner Thigh Pain
Your inner thigh muscles don't get as much attention as your glutes, quads and hamstrings do. However, these muscles, collectively called the adductors, are important muscles. As a group, the adductors move your thigh inward. Individual adductor muscles also assist with hip flexion, or forward movement of the thigh, and extension, or backward movement of the thigh.
Adductor muscle strains are common, particularly among athletes or individuals who participate in certain types of exercise. According to a 2017 article published by Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine, 2 to 5 percent of all sports-related injuries affect the groin — including adductor strains. These injuries are most common in sports or exercise activities that include quick change of direction or strong contraction of the adductor muscles.
This article reports that groin injuries most commonly affect athletes who participate in martial arts, cricket, softball, baseball, football, soccer, hockey, basketball, tennis, figure skating and horseback riding.
Assess the Severity
Muscle strains are graded based on the severity of your injury, as described by Harvard Health Publishing. Grading these injuries helps determine appropriate treatment interventions. Muscle strains are graded from 1 to 3:
- Grade 1: Stretching or mild tearing of a few muscles fibers, pain and tenderness are present, but normal strength is maintained.
- Grade 2: Greater number of injured muscle fibers, pain and tenderness are more severe, might have bruising and a noticeable loss of strength. Inner thigh swelling after a workout could indicate you have an injury in this category.
- Grade 3: Full tear through the muscle, complete loss of function, considerable pain, swelling, tenderness, bruising and noticeable deformity. Might hear an audible "pop" when the injury occurs. This level of injury requires urgent medical attention and probable surgical intervention.
Grade 1 or 2 inner thigh muscle strains can likely be treated at home using the RICE method:
- Rest: Avoid any activities that increase your pain, but don't just lie around. You might need to use crutches for a few days to reduce pressure through your injured leg.
- Ice: Apply ice to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours for the first three days after injury. If your pain extends the whole length of your thigh, an ice bath might be more effective.
- Compression: Wrap your thigh with an elastic bandage to help reduce swelling. Begin just above your knee, overlapping each layer by 50 percent. Wrap as far up into your groin as you comfortably can. Don't wrap too tightly — you should be able to fit at least two finger-widths between your skin and the bandage. If you have numbness or tingling in your leg, or if your toes become dusky-colored, the bandage is too tight.
- Elevation: Prop your leg up above the level of your heart as much as possible. This will allow gravity to help move swelling out of the injured area.
If you have symptoms of a grade 3 sprain, or truly cannot bear weight on your affected leg, seek immediate medical attention. Do not try to treat this injury at home.
Read more: Fastest Way to Heal Inner Thigh Muscles
Understand "Normal" Muscle Soreness
It's not unusual to have some muscle soreness following a workout. And you might not notice this discomfort right away. You may finish your routine feeling good, but the day after your workout you might wake up feeling like you've been hit by a truck. The muscles of your inner thighs might feel like tight rubber bands and cause you difficulty when walking.
The phenomenon is called delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, pain from DOMS typically peaks 24 to 72 hours after a workout. This type of soreness develops from eccentric movements, where muscles are lengthening under tension. For example, this occurs during the lowering phase of a biceps curl, or while your thigh muscles "put on the brakes" to control your body's speed as you run downhill. Your adductor muscles contract eccentrically during activities that require kicking and fast changes of direction.
Adductor muscle soreness can also develop from normal microtearing that occurs during strength-training exercises. This muscle damage is what precipitates muscle growth. Examples of exercises that can lead to adductor soreness include side lunges, use of a lever adduction machine, wide-stance sumo squats and deadlifts.
1. Perform Gentle Stretches
Stretching can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion after an inner thigh muscle strain. Hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds, as instructed by Harvard Medical School and repeat three times. Do not stretch to the point of pain. Although you can expect to have some discomfort, pain during stretching can indicate that you are further injuring your muscles.
Wait at least 48 hours after injury before you begin gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, and only perform them in a pain-free range of motion.
Move 1: Figure 4 Stretch
- Sit at the edge of a firm chair.
- Cross your injured leg over the opposite thigh, resting the outside of your ankle just above the opposite knee.
- Gently press down on the bent knee until you feel a stretch along the inside of your thigh.
Intensify this stretch by hinging forward at your hips, lowering your chest toward your thighs.
Move 2: Butterfly Stretch
- Sit on the ground.
- Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together.
- Place your hands on your ankles and rest your elbows on your knees.
- Slowly bend forward and gently press down on your knees with your elbows.
- Stop and hold when you feel a strong stretch.
Move 3: Side Lunge Stretch
- Stand up straight with your legs spread wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Raise your arms up and out to your sides.
- Turn your foot out to the side on your unaffected leg.
- Keeping your injured leg straight, bend the opposite knee and shift your weight over that knee until you feel a stretch along your injured thigh.
Move 4: Runner's Stretch
- From a standing position, step your injured leg back approximately two feet and turn your foot outward.
- Bend your front knee and lean your chest forward until it rests on your thigh.
- Shift your weight over the front leg until you feel a stretch in your injured thigh.
Move 5: Double Leg Straddle
- Sit on the ground with your legs extended.
- Spread your legs apart as far as you comfortably can.
- Keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling, hinge forward at your hips.
- Grab your toes and gently pull your torso down until you feel a strong stretch.
2. Strengthen Your Adductors
According to a May 2014 article published by Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, having strong adductors helps to prevent injuries to this muscle group. Researchers studied activation of the adductor longus — one of the primary muscles in this group — during six different exercises that are commonly performed to strengthen these muscles: side-lying adduction, isometric ball squeezes, sumo squats, rotational squats, side lunges and standing adduction on a Swiss ball. While all of the exercises were effective, side-lying adduction showed the most adductor longus activation, followed ball isometric ball squeezes.
Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise, working up to three sets in a row.
Move 1: Side-Lying Adduction
- Lie on your side, with your affected leg on the bottom.
- Bend your top knee and place your foot on the ground, just in front of your opposite knee.
- Keeping your toes pointed forward and knee straight, lift your bottom leg up as far as you comfortably can.
- Lower back down.
Make this exercise more difficult by wrapping a cuff weight around your ankle.
Move 2: Isometric Ball Squeeze
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor.
- Place a small ball between your knees.
- Squeeze the ball between your knees, then relax.
This exercise can also be performed in a seated position.
Move 3: Hip Adduction on Swiss Ball
- Stand up straight. Bend your knee on the affected leg and rest it on top of a large Swiss Ball.
- Slowly roll the ball out to the side, then pull it back it using your adductor muscles.
- Place your hands on your hips for balance, if needed.
Move 4: Sumo Squats
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Rotate your feet outward 45 degrees.
- Push your hips back, bend your knees and squat down as if you are going to sit in a chair.
- Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground, then stand back up.
Move 5: Side Lunges
- Stand with your toes pointed forward.
- Step your right leg out to the side until your feet are approximately double shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your right knee to 90 degrees, then push back up into a standing position.
- Return to the starting position.
- Step your left leg out to the side and repeat.
Move 6: Rotational Squats
- Place a resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees.
- Bend your knees slightly to put tension on the band.
- Rotate your trunk 90 degrees to the right. At the same time, rotate your right leg outward until your right foot is perpendicular to your left foot.
- While you are rotating, squat down.
- As you rotate back to the starting position, stand back up.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- ExRx.net: "Adductors (Hip)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Muscle Strain"
- Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine: "Assessment and Management of Adductor Strain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Muscle Strain"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)"
- Journal of Sport Rehabilitation: "Adductor Longus Activation During Common Hip Exercises"
- Berkshire Healthcare: "Groin Strain"
- Harvard Medical School: "Stretches: 35 Stretches to Improve Flexibility and Reduce Pain"