Definition

This is an injury that damages the internal structure of the abdominal muscles. Strains are marked by rips or tears to a muscle. Most of the time, these rips or tears are tiny. They may cause some discomfort. When the damaged parts of the muscle pull away from each other, it is called a rupture.

Muscle Fibers

Muscle Fibers
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

This condition is caused by an overexertion of the abdominal muscle, which can happen when:

  • Doing an activity that the muscle is not ready for
  • Exercising excessively
  • Improperly performing exercises or sports activities
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Sharply twisting the body

Abdominal Muscles—Side View

Abdominal muscle and pelvis
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing abdominal muscle strain:

  • Not stretching properly before exercising
  • Overexerting muscles
  • Performing exercises and sports activities incorrectly (especially running and jumping)
  • Having weak back muscles
  • Being fatigued
  • Participating in vigorous activity
  • Exercising in cold weather

Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.

Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to abdominal muscle strain. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Muscle pain or soreness immediately upon injury
  • Stiffness and discomfort
  • Problems flexing or pain while stretching muscle
  • Pain when touching the area
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling or bruising (in severe cases)

If you have ruptured the muscle, you will feel intense pain.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. During the physical exam, she will look for:

  • Tenderness over the area of the muscle
  • Pain, especially when the muscle is contracted

The doctor will grade the strain depending on how badly injured you are:

  • First degree—muscle fibers are injured; 2-3 weeks to recover
  • Second degree—a larger amount of muscle fibers are injured; 3-6 weeks to recover
  • Third degree—the muscle is ruptured, may require surgery; about 3 months to recover

Treatment

  • After the injury, stop the activity right way.
  • Rest as needed.
  • Apply a cold pack for 15-20 minutes. Apply ice four times a day for 1-2 days.
  • Take pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen . These can also help to reduce swelling.
  • Begin gentle stretching when pain subsides.
  • If you do not improve in 1-2 days, call your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor when you can return to normal activity.
  • When you are feeling better, do exercises to slowly regain strength.
  • Use heat when returning to activity.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting this condition, take the following steps:

  • Stretch before exercising and cool down after.
  • Do not overexert yourself while exercising.
  • Get proper training for sports and exercises.
  • Do exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Work with a personal trainer or physical therapist.
  • Learn how to properly lift heavy objects .
  • If you are tired, stop exercising.

If you have a fever and abdominal pain, seek medical attention right away.