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External oblique aponeurosis nerve entrapment as a cause of groin pain in the athlete.

BACKGROUND: Groin pain in sportsmen is a common management problem. The results of surgical exploration in 25 male athletes presenting with groin pain are described.

METHODS: All patients had had failed non-operative management. All groins were explored via an inguinal incision and the patients were reviewed for the presence of pain, function and their own subjective opinion.

RESULTS: Nineteen injuries were unilateral and six bilateral. One patient had an occult inguinal hernia and another had a patent processus vaginalis. In the others, defects were found in the external oblique aponeurosis through which neurovascular bundles containing terminal branches of the iliohypogastric nerve passed. These tears were repaired after division of the bundles. The mean time to referral was 29.3 weeks (range 4-79 weeks). After operation no pain or only mild pain was experienced in 28 groins. All had improved function. Twenty of 23 patients described the operation as good or excellent. The mean time to resumption of sporting activities after operation was 11.6 (range 4-20) weeks.

CONCLUSION: Athletes' groin pain may be due to nerve entrapment in the external oblique aponeurosis. An awareness of this injury may reduce delays in operating leading to an earlier return to sport.

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