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Definition  

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.

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Abdominal Muscles—Side View  
Abdominal muscle and pelvis

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Causes  

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
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Risk Factors  

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.
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Symptoms  

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
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Diagnosis  

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.
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Treatment  

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:

Acute Care  

Rest  

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.

Cold  

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.

Pain Relief Medications  

To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain relievers

Recovery Steps  

Heat  

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.

Stretching  

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.

Strengthening  

Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.

If you are diagnosed with abdominal strain, follow your doctor's instructions.

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Prevention  

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.