An abdominal muscle strain, also called a pulled abdominal muscle, is an injury to one of the muscles of the abdominal wall. A muscle strain occurs when the muscle is stretched too far. When this occurs the muscle fibers are torn. Most commonly, a strain causes microscopic tears within the muscle, but occassionally, in severe injuries, the muscle can rupture from its attachment.
The abdominal wall is made up of several muscles. These include:
- Rectus Abdominis: the muscle over the front of the belly-this muscle give people a "six-pack" appearance when the rectus is well developed.
- Internal and External Oblique: the obliqes wrap around the sides of the body.
Symptoms of an Abdominal Strain
Abdominal muscle strains usually cause immediate pain in the area of the injured muscle. It can be hard to flex the muscle because of this pain. The other common symptom is muscle spasm of the injured muscle. Less commonly, swelling and brusing can result from the muscle injury.
Abdominal muscle strains are graded according to the severity of the injury:
- Grade I (Mild): Mild discomfort, often no disability. Usually does not limit activity.
- Grade II (Moderate): Moderate discomfort, can limit ability to perform activities such as crunches or twisting movements.
- Grade III (Severe): Severe injury that can cause pain with normal activities. Often patients complain of muscle spasm and bruising.
Treatment of Abdominal Strains
Treatment of an abdominal muscle injury is difficult--there is no way to splint the abdomen and it is nearly impossible to fully rest these muscles. That said, the most important step after sustaining an abdominal muscle strain is to allow the muscle to cool down and allow the inflammation to subside. Avoiding exercise to allow the injured muscle to heal is important. Activities that cause pain or spasm of the abdominal muscles should be avoided.
Gentle stretching is helpful, but it should not be painful. Stretching excessively can be harmful, and slow the healing process. Apply ice to the injured area in the acute phase (first 48 hours after injury), and then after activities. Before activities, gentle heating can help to loosen the muscle.
If you have symptoms of a severe abdominal strain, you should be evaluated for proper treatment. If normal daily activities, such as walking, sitting, or sleeping, are disrupted because of your injury, then you should have the injury evaluated by a doctor.
If you are unsure if you have an abdominal stain, or the symptoms do not quickly resolve, then you should be evaluated. Physicians and physical therapists can be helpful in guiding treatment that may speed your recovery. Some people find modalities such as ultrasound, therapeutic massage, and specific exercises particularly helpful. You should see your physician to determine if these would be appropriate for your condition.