If you've ever pulled an inner thigh muscle, you know how painful it can be. The good news is, these injuries typically heal with conservative treatment.
Pain along the inner leg muscles can also be a result of injury to your lower back or hip. You can determine whether or not these muscles are the cause of your symptoms with a few simple tests.
Determine the Cause
The inner thigh muscles are collectively called the "adductors." Injury to your adductor muscles typically causes pain around the pubic bone where these muscles attach to the pelvis and along the inside of the thigh.
According to an article published in April 2018 by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, strained adductors will be painful when these muscles are contracted — when squeezing a pillow between your knees, for example — and when you move your leg out to the side, which causes them to stretch. This opposite movement of the thigh is called abduction.
Pain along the inner thigh and groin can also be a sign of more serious medical conditions, such as cancer in the pelvic area or a hip fracture. Seek immediate medical attention if you have pain at rest or while sleeping, difficulty urinating, fever, unexplained weight loss or if your pain is the result of a trauma — such as a fall.
Inner Thigh Muscle Function
Although they don't get a lot of attention, there are five important inner thigh muscles that perform adduction, or movement of your leg in toward the middle of your body, according to ExRx.net. These include adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis and pectineus.
In addition to adduction, these muscles also assist with hip flexion and extension — forward and backward movement of the thigh — and external rotation, or turning your leg outward. The adductors are heavily relied upon during sports that involve running and can be easily injured during quick changes in direction or when pivoting on a planted foot, according to a case study published in June 2017 by the Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine.
The majority of muscle strains heal with conservative treatment. In rare cases, a muscle or tendon can completely tear, requiring surgical intervention. If you hear a "pop," see a noticeable deformity along your inner thigh or you're unable to bear weight on your leg after injury, do not try to treat your injury at home. Instead, seek immediate medical attention.
Treat Your Muscle Strain
Immediately after an injury to your inner leg muscles, apply ice to the area to decrease inflammation, swelling and pain. If your pain affects the majority of your thigh, consider taking an ice bath to treat the entire area more efficiently. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every few hours, for the first few days after injury, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic.
Avoid activities that increase your pain, but don't sit around all day. Movement brings blood and nutrients to your injured muscle, which helps promote healing. Use crutches for a few days to decrease the amount of pressure on your leg if walking is painful. Once you can bear some weight on your leg, cut back to one crutch under the arm on the opposite side of the body from your injury.
Wrap your thigh with a compression bandage to help control swelling. Begin just above your knee, overlapping half the width of the bandage with each layer. Continue wrapping until you reach your groin. Elevate your leg above your heart whenever possible.
You should be able to slide two fingers between your skin and the compression wrap — otherwise, it's too tight. Tingling in your leg or toes can also indicate that you need to loosen the elastic bandage.
Beginning 72 hours after injury, apply heat to your inner thigh muscles for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day, to increase blood flow and help the muscles relax. Use a microwavable hot pack or soak in a warm bath.
Inner Thigh Exercises
Strains can lead to muscle tightness. After resting your adductors for a few days, begin gentle inner thigh stretches. Stretch your adductors as well as other inner quadriceps, hamstrings and hip rotator muscles that attach to your pelvis, as demonstrated by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Stretches will be uncomfortable, but they should not increase your pain — this can cause further damage to your muscles. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times in a row, several times per day.
Move 1: Butterfly Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and soles of your feet together.
- Gently pull your feet in closer to your groin until you feel a stretch along your inner thighs.
- Intensify the stretch by gently pressing down on your knees.
Move 2: Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight.
- Spread your legs apart as far as you comfortably can.
- Keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling, bend forward at your hips until you feel a stretch along your inner thighs.
If this stretch is too difficult, bend the knee on your uninjured leg and bring your foot in toward your groin before you hinge forward at the hips.
Move 3: Doorway Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back with one leg in a doorway and your injured leg against the wall.
- Slowly slide your heel up the wall, inching your body closer to the wall as you straighten your knee.
- Stop when you feel a stretch along the back of your thigh.
Move 4: Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch
- Stand with your feet staggered approximately two feet apart, with your injured leg in the back.
- Bend your knees, lowering your back knee to the ground.
- Keeping your chest up, slowly shift your weight over your front foot until you feel a stretch along the front of the thigh on your back leg.
Move 5: Hip Rotator Stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Cross the ankle of your injured leg over the opposite thigh, just above your knee.
- Use your hand to gently press your knee away from your body until you feel a stretch deep in your buttocks.
- Intensify this stretch by lifting the opposite foot off the ground.
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: "Clinical Examination, Diagnostic Imaging, and Testing of Athletes With Groin Pain: An Evidence-Based Approach to Effective Management"
- ExRx.net: "Adductors"
- Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine: "Assessment and Management of Adductor Strain"
- Mayo Clinic: "Muscle Strains"
- The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: "Stretching Exercises for Your Hips and Knees"