An abdominal muscle strain is a partial or full tear of the small muscle fibers in the abdomen. The abdominal muscles are grouped around the abdomen and trunk. They make up the core muscles in our body.
Abdominal muscle strain is caused by:
- Activity that the muscle is not ready for
- Excessive exercise
- Improper technique while playing sports
- Lifting heavy objects
- Sharply twisting the body
Abdominal Muscles—Side View
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These factors increase your chance of developing abdominal muscle strain:
- Improper technique during sports activities, especially running and jumping
- Previous strain or injury to the area
- Muscle fatigue
- Tight abdominal muscles
Symptoms may include:
- Muscle pain or soreness immediately after an injury
- Stiffness and discomfort
- Problems flexing or pain while stretching the muscle
- Pain when touching the area
- Muscle spasms
- Swelling or bruising
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro tearing of muscle fibers.
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of muscle fibers.
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of muscle fibers. This may also be called a rupture or avulsion.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on these muscles:
- Do not do activities that cause pain. This includes running, jumping, and weight lifting using the abdominal muscles.
- Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
- Topical creams or patches that are applied to the skin
- Prescription pain relievers
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.
Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.
To help reduce your chance of getting another abdominal muscle strain, take the following steps:
- Do not overexert yourself while exercising
- Get proper training for sports and exercises
- Do exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles
Learn how to properly
lift heavy objects.
- If you are tired, stop exercising
Abdominal muscles. Better Health Channel website. Available at:
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Abdominal_muscles?open. Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2013.
Johns Hopkins sports medicine patient guide to muscle strain. John Hopskin Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.hopkinsortho.org/muscle_strain.html. Accessed April 26, 2013.
Muscle strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Accessed April 26, 2013.
Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/sprains-strains-and-tears.pdf. Accessed April 26, 2013.
10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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