Aims: To evaluate the role of surgical exploration and repair of the inguinal canal in athletes suspected of having a sports hernia.
Methods: Thirty-five (34 males, 1 female) athletes with a suspected sports hernia underwent surgical exploration and inguinal hernia repair. After six months, all athletes were sent questionnaires to assess any improvement in analogue pain scores, return to sport, recurrence of symptoms and the overall result of surgery.
Results: Operative findings revealed a tear in the external oblique aponeurosis with or without a significant posterior bulge (n=20), a lone significant posterior bulge (n=10), a tear in the conjoint tendon with dilated superficial ring (n=3), small direct hernial sac (n=1) and lipoma of the spermatic cord (n=1). Surgery consisted of repair of external oblique tear (when present) and prolene darn or lichtenstein mesh repair of the posterior inguinal canal. Twenty-seven patients replied to the questionnaire giving a response rate of 78%; of these, 25 patients (93%: 95% CI 83-100) had returned to normal athletic activities at pre-injury level. There was a marked improvement in level of pain (median pain level=8 pre-operative vs 2 post-operative, p<0.001). Eleven patients (41%) rated the results as excellent, eleven (41%) as good and five (18%) as fair and none worse. Six patients complained of occasional discomfort related to the scar. Three patients complained of recurrence of their symptoms after 4 to 5 months following strenuous exercise.
Conclusion: Sports hernia presents with a spectrum of surgical findings. Athletes with sports hernia should be considered for routine hernia repair, as the majority of the patients benefit from surgery. It is important to offer a structured rehabilitation programme to maximise the benefits of surgery.