An abdominal muscle strain is a stretch or tear of a muscle in your belly. A strain may also be called a “pulled” muscle.
What is the cause?
You may strain your muscles during an activity like lifting or twisting or even hard coughing or sneezing. Muscles can also get strained from overuse, like from doing lots of sit-ups or crunches.
What are the symptoms?
You have soreness or pain in the surface of your belly, especially when you use your abdominal muscles.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and activities and examine your belly. Your provider will ask you to do an exercise, like a sit-up, to see if it causes pain. You may have tests to look for other causes of the pain.
How is it treated?
You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until your muscles have healed.
Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises and other types of physical therapy to help you heal.
A mild strain may heal within a few weeks. A more severe strain may take 6 weeks or longer.
How can I take care of myself?
To help relieve pain:
Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the sore area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you donâ€™t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
Put moist heat on the sore area for 10 to 15 minutes before you do warm-up and stretching exercises. Moist heat may help relax your muscles. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can buy at most drugstores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in a microwave or the dryer, or a hot shower. Donâ€™t use heat if you have swelling.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent abdominal muscle strains?
Warm-up exercises and stretching before activities can help prevent injuries. Strong, flexible muscles are less likely to be strained. You can strengthen your abdominal muscles by doing sit-ups or abdominal crunches.
Be sure to not overdo it when you start an exercise program.
When you lift heavy objects, bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-10-21 Last reviewed: 2013-07-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Abdominal Muscle Strain: References
DeLee, Jesse C., David Drez, and Mark D. Miller, Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice, Saunders; 3rd ed. 2009.
Greene, Walter B., and Griffin, Letha Y. (Ed), Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed. Amer Academy of Orthopaedic. 2010.
Kisner, Carol, and Lynn Colby, Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, F. A. Davis Company; 6th ed, 2012.
Mellion, Morris B., W. Michael Walsh, Christopher Madden, Margot Putukian, and Guy L. Shelton, The Team Physician’s Handbook, Hanley & Belfus; 3 ed, 2001.
Micheli, Lyle J. and Mark Jenkins, The Sports Medicine Bible: Prevent, Detect, and Treat Your Sports Injuries Through the Latest Medical Techniques, HarperCollins, 1995.
Oâ€™Connor, F., et al. ACSMâ€™s Sports Medicine: A Comprehensive Review. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2012.