Background: Sportsman's hernia is a debilitating condition which presents as chronic groin pain. A tear occurs at the external oblique which may result in an occult hernia. The definition, investigation and treatment of this condition remain unclear.
Methods: A systematic Medline search was performed and all literature pertaining to chronic groin pain, groin injury, sportsman's hernia and sportsman's groin from 1962 to 1999 was retrieved for analysis.
Results: The costs of computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are such that their routine use for assessment of patients with groin pain cannot be justified. They may, however, be employed in difficult cases to help define the anatomical extent of a groin injury. Plain radiography, ultrasonography and scintigraphy should be the usual first-line investigations to supplement clinical assessment. Herniography may help in situations of obscure chronic groin and pelvic pain. There is no consensus view supporting any particular surgical procedure for sportsman's hernia. A number of reports have been published describing different repairs of the posterior inguinal wall deficiency. Appropriate repair of the posterior wall results in therapeutic benefit in selected cases.
Conclusion: The diagnosis of sportsman's hernia is difficult. The condition must be distinguished from the more common osteitis pubis and musculotendinous injuries. Early surgical intervention is usually, although not always, successful when conservative management has failed.