Q. Walking has recently become painful for me. At first, the pain was minute. But over time, the pain has grown and I have difficulty walking naturally. Whenever I put pressure on my left leg to walk, I can feel the pain which seems to radiate from the joint area of my left leg and my hip near the groin. I have to walk with a slight limp to cope with the pain. At times, I feel a dull pain in the inner thigh of my left leg, around my knee or my shin. Sitting does not cause me any pain, but each time I stand up to move, the first step is the most painful and I have to be very careful as, at times, my leg feels weak. I used to step off from the escalator with my left leg but now, I have to rely on my right leg. Similarly, I have also begun using my right leg to get off buses and trains. I have trouble climbing the stairs. What problem do I possibly have, and can it be cured?
A. The most common cause of groin pain is muscle, tendon or ligament strain, particularly in athletes who play sports such as hockey, soccer and football.
Hip disorders, such as slipped capital femoral epiphysis and infectious arthritis can also cause pain at the groin, hip, inner thigh and knee.
Less commonly, a bone injury or fracture, a hernia, or even kidney stones may cause groin pain. Groin pain may occur immediately after an injury, or set in gradually over weeks or months. An X-ray or ultrasound scan may be needed to make sure you do not have a fracture, tear or a more serious condition.
WEAK LIVER AND KIDNEYS
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), pain at the groin, hip and inner thigh is likely caused by deficiencies in the liver and kidneys.
Or, it could be a lack of qi (vital energy) and blood, or poor blood circulation. Sometimes, pathogens like wind, heat, cold and dampness may be to blame.
In TCM, the kidneys govern the bones while the liver governs the ligaments and tendons of the joints.
Therefore, if these organs are impaired, the person may suffer from musculoskeletal problems.
Ageing, chronic ailments, fatigue and negative emotions, as well as insufficient qi and blood, can weaken the tendons and bones. This leads to groin and hip pain that is indistinct, accompanied by dizziness.
The person may feel he does not have enough strength to lift up his affected leg, or to walk.
A lack of blood and qi can also explain your problem, as one’s tendons, fascia and ligaments rely on the nourishment of blood.
Coupled with a lack of qi, chronic and intermittent groin and hip pain will occur. The person will have difficulty moving about, and the pain tends to be aggravated when he feels tired. He may suffer from other symptoms like a pale complexion and breathlessness.
When qi and blood are lacking, it is also easier for external pathogens to “invade” the body. These refer to wind, cold, dampness and heat, which can affect the groin area and trigger pain.
Wind will cause soreness and pain that migrates from the groin and hip to other joints. Cold leads to severe, localised pain that is relieved by warmth. Dampness tends to result in a feeling of heaviness, numbness and swelling of the groin and hip area, while heat gives rise to sudden pain with redness and swelling.
If you have previously injured your groin, it is possible that it did not heal completely, or that the scarring caused blockages of qi and blood. This results in poor circulation that can trigger severe chronic pain at the groin and hip. This usually occurs with swollen joints, aches and muscle stiffness.
WAYS TO RELIEVE PAIN
Some ways to ease your problem include consuming Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, tuina and cupping therapy. They help to strengthen the affected organs.
For instance, herbs such as medicinal cyathula root, Chinese taxillus herb and eucommnia bark help to boost liver and kidney health.
To increase qi and blood, take Indian bread, processed rehmannia root and Chinese angelica.
If you are affected by wind and dampness, try incised notoptergium rhizome and doubleteeth pubescent angelica root.
To expel cold from the body, take common monkshood mother root and kusnezoff monkshood root.
Meanwhile, cape jasmine fruit and tree peony bark can be useful if your problem stems from heat and dampness. Herbs to improve blood circulation include cowberb seed and gambir plant.
Lifestyle changes that can help to reduce your pain include keeping yourself warm, especially at night. Make sure that your air-conditioner or fan is not blowing directly at the groin.
A slow, steady warm-up is necessary before you engage in any physical activity. Be careful when lifting heavy objects.
If there is any acute inflammation, taking a break from physical activity is helpful until it has subsided.
Avoid emotional stress and anxiety. Do a light massage or place heat pads on your groin and hip to enhance qi and blood circulation.
Doing gentle stretches of the groin muscle – within your tolerance level – can strengthen the affected muscles and speed your recovery.
By Lim Lay Beng, Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline ‘Deficiencies in organs can cause hip pain ‘