Athletes and physically active individuals who participate in activities, exercises, and sports that involve kicking, pivoting, and/or shifting directions can develop pelvis overuse injury of the pubic symphysis/joint at the front of the pelvis known as osteitis pubis. Can recognizing the symptoms and causes help in treatment and prevention?
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Osteitis Pubis Injury
Osteitis pubis is the inflammation of the joint that connects the pelvic bones, called the pelvic symphysis, and the structures around it. The pubic symphysis is a joint in front of and below the bladder. It holds the two sides of the pelvis together in the front. The pubis symphysis has very little motion, but when abnormal or continued stress is placed on the joint, groin and pelvic pain can present. An osteitis pubis injury is a common overuse injury in physically active individuals and athletes but can also occur as the result of physical trauma, pregnancy, and/or childbirth.
The most common symptom is pain over the front of the pelvis. The pain is most often felt in the center, but one side may be more painful than the other. The pain typically radiates/spreads outward. Other signs and symptoms include: (Patrick Gomella, Patrick Mufarrij. 2017)
- Lower abdominal pain in the center of the pelvis
- Hip and/or leg weakness
- Difficulty climbing stairs
- Pain when walking, running, and/or shifting directions
- Clicking or popping sounds with movement or when shifting directions
- Pain when lying down on the side
- Pain when sneezing or coughing
Osteitis pubis can be confused with other injuries, including a groin strain/groin pull, a direct inguinal hernia, ilioinguinal neuralgia, or a pelvic stress fracture.
An osteitis pubis injury usually occurs when the symphysis joint is exposed to excessive, continued, directional stress and overuse of the hip and leg muscles. Causes include: (Patrick Gomella, Patrick Mufarrij. 2017)
- Sports activities
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Pelvic injury like a severe fall
The injury is diagnosed based on a physical examination and imaging tests. Other tests may be used to rule out other possible causes.
- The physical exam will involve manipulation of the hip to place tension on the rectus abdominis trunk muscle and adductor thigh muscle groups.
- Pain during the manipulation is a common sign of the condition.
- Individuals may be asked to walk to look for irregularities in gait patterns or to see if symptoms occur with certain movements.
- X-rays will typically reveal joint irregularities as well as sclerosis/thickening of the pubic symphysis.
- Magnetic resonance imaging – MRI may reveal joint and surrounding bone inflammation.
- Some cases will show no signs of injury on an X-ray or MRI.
Effective treatment can take several months or longer. Because inflammation is the underlying cause of symptoms, the treatment will often involve: (Tricia Beatty. 2012)
- Allows the acute inflammation to subside.
- During recovery, sleeping flat on the back may be recommended to reduce pain.
Ice and Heat Applications
- Ice packs help reduce inflammation.
- The heat helps ease pain after the initial swelling has gone down.
- Physical therapy can be extremely helpful in treating the condition to help regain strength and flexibility. (Alessio Giai Via, et al., 2019)
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications – NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce pain and inflammation.
Assistive Walking Devices
- If the symptoms are severe, crutches or a cane may be recommended to reduce stress on the pelvis.
- There have been attempts to treat the condition with cortisone injections, but the evidence supporting its use is limited and needs further research. (Alessio Giai Via, et al., 2019)
Once diagnosed, the prognosis for full recovery is optimal but can take time. It can take some individuals six months or more to return to pre-injury level of function, but most return by around three months. If conservative treatment fails to provide relief after six months, surgery could be recommended. (Michael Dirkx, Christopher Vitale. 2023)
Sports Injuries Rehabilitation
Gomella, P., & Mufarrij, P. (2017). Osteitis pubis: A rare cause of suprapubic pain. Reviews in urology, 19(3), 156–163. doi.org/10.3909/riu0767
Beatty T. (2012). Osteitis pubis in athletes. Current sports medicine reports, 11(2), 96–98. doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e318249c32b
Via, A. G., Frizziero, A., Finotti, P., Oliva, F., Randelli, F., & Maffulli, N. (2018). Management of osteitis pubis in athletes: rehabilitation and return to training – a review of the most recent literature. Open access journal of sports medicine, 10, 1–10. doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S155077
Dirkx M, Vitale C. Osteitis Pubis. [Updated 2022 Dec 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556168/
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