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An excellent way to distinguish between different types of groin hernias


Indirect Inguinal Hernia

Direct Inguinal Hernia

Femoral Hernia


Lateral to the inferior epigastric vessels

Medial to the inferior epigastric vessels

Below the inguinal ligament, lateral to the pubic tubercle


Above and medial to the pubic tubercle (internal inguinal ring)

Hesselbach's triangle (area of abdominal wall weakness)

Through the femoral canal


Through the inguinal canal into the scrotum or labia

Directly through the abdominal wall, rarely into the scrotum

Below the inguinal ligament, may protrude into upper thigh

Common Age

Any age, more common in children and young adults

Older adults

Middle-aged and elderly, especially women

Palpation Technique

Invaginate the scrotum/labia to the external ring, ask for cough

Press directly over the inguinal canal near the pubic tubercle

Palpate below the inguinal ligament

Cough Impulse

Positive, bulge felt against the fingertip during cough

Positive, bulge felt at the medial aspect of the inguinal canal

Positive, bulge below inguinal ligament

Inguinal Canal Involvement

Yes, traverses the entire inguinal canal

Yes, but confined to a weak spot in the canal

No, outside the canal

Association with Straining

Often appears or worsens with straining or crying

May appear or worsen with straining

Frequently worsens with straining

Gender Prevalence

More common in males

More common in males

More common in females


Most common type of hernia, making up about 70% of all groin hernias

Approximately 25-30% of all groin hernias

Less common, about 3-5% of groin hernias

Describing the Image of Groin Hernias

Credit of Image

The educational image and further information about the types of hernias can be found at the Hernia Clinic New Zealand website: Hernia Clinic New Zealand.

Key Anatomical Landmarks

  • Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (ASIS): This bony prominence on the iliac crest helps in locating the inguinal ligament.

  • Pubic Tubercle: A prominent forward projection at the front of the pubic bone, which is an attachment point for the inguinal ligament.

  • Inguinal Ligament: Runs from the pubic tubercle to the ASIS and forms the base of the inguinal canal.

  • Mid-inguinal Point: Located halfway between the ASIS and the pubic symphysis, this point approximates the location of the femoral artery.

Physical Examination Techniques

  • Patient Positioning: The examination should be conducted with the patient standing and lying down, as some hernias may only be evident when the patient is upright or during straining.

  • Visual Inspection: Look for any obvious bulges in the groin region, particularly when the patient coughs or strains (Valsalva maneuver).

  • Palpation:

  • Inguinal Canal: Palpate the inguinal canal by placing your index finger in the scrotum (in males) or labia majora (in females) and invaginate the skin up to the external inguinal ring. Ask the patient to cough or perform a Valsalva maneuver. A bulge felt against the fingertip suggests an indirect hernia.

  • Direct Hernia Examination: Feel for any bulge or impulse on the floor of the inguinal canal, particularly medial to the inferior epigastric vessels and just lateral to the pubic tubercle.

  • Femoral Hernia Examination: Palpate the area just below the inguinal ligament, medial to the femoral vein, and lateral to the pubic tubercle. A femoral hernia presents as a mass or bulge in this region.

Distinguishing Between Hernia Types

  • Indirect Inguinal Hernia: Typically presents lateral to the inferior epigastric vessels and can protrude into the scrotum. It often originates above and medial to the pubic tubercle and follows the path of the descent of the testes.

  • Direct Inguinal Hernia: Occurs medial to the inferior epigastric vessels and rarely extends into the scrotum. It pushes directly outward through a weakness in the fascia of the abdominal wall (Hesselbach’s triangle).

  • Femoral Hernia: More commonly found in women, this hernia is palpable below the inguinal ligament and lateral to the pubic tubercle. It protrudes through the femoral canal.

Diagnostic Tips

  • An indirect hernia is often suggested by a history of a bulge that extends into the scrotum or labia and may have been present from childhood.

  • A direct hernia typically appears later in life and is often associated with a history of heavy lifting or chronic cough.

  • Femoral hernias may present with pain and discomfort in the upper thigh or groin, particularly when straining.

This examination approach is critical in the initial clinical assessment of hernias and is often sufficient for making a diagnosis, guiding the subsequent management plan, whether it be surgical intervention or watchful waiting.

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