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Abdominal Strains in Sports - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Abdominal strains happen when any of the muscles in your abdominal wall are either stretched beyond what it can take or torn. Abdominal strains can be common in strenuous sports activities requiring the athlete to bend forward and backward or excessively twist the trunk.

The abdominal muscles

You have four major abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique muscles, and the transversus abdominis. Among these four muscles, the rectus abdominis, which is located in the middle of your abdomen, is the most commonly strained muscle.


Common causes of abdominal strains

Two of the most common causes of abdominal strains are overstretching of the muscles and long-term repetitive use. Sudden twisting of the trunk; heavy lifting with poorly conditioned abdominal muscles; sudden backward bending of the trunk; and repetitive contraction of the abdominal muscles in sports activities may cause abdominal strains. Inappropriate abdominal exercises may also lead to straining of the abdominal muscles.

Athletes at risk for abdominal strains may include those who participate in baseball, softball, heavy weightlifting, gymnastics, hockey, basketball, football, and swimming.

Symptoms

The symptoms that you experience when you strain your abdominal muscle depend on the severity of your injury. If you have a mild (Grade I) strain wherein your abdominal muscle is overstretched but not torn, you may have mild pain and mild swelling may or may not occur. You may be able to move your trunk with mild pain.

Muscle fibers are partially torn in a grade II (moderate) abdominal strain. It can cause sudden abdominal pain, swelling is present and the site of injury is tender. Bruising may also occur in moderate strains.

In severe, or grade III, strain, the muscle is completely torn and symptoms of pain and swelling are usually severe. Trunk movements are severely limited because of pain. Bruising occurs after a few hours following your injury.

If you are unsure of the severity of your injury, consult a health care professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatments

Like other muscle strain injuries, the primary goals of initial treatment are to reduce your pain and swelling. Mild abdominal strains can be successfully treated with rest and immediately applying an ice pack (wrapped in towel) for 20 minutes at a time. You can continue ice pack application every two to three hours for the first 24 to 48 hours following your injury. Ice application can help minimize your pain and swelling. You may have to limit movements that worsen your symptoms for a couple of days. Taking over the counter pain reliever may also help. Ask your doctor what medications you can take and at what dose.

For moderate and severe abdominal injuries, you can apply an ice pack to help with your pain and swelling. Consult your doctor immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Depending on the severity of your injury treatments may include pain medication, ice application, bandaging, and physical therapy. Severe abdominal strains may require surgery to repair the torn muscle.

Physical therapy can help you get back to your sports activity. When your symptoms have considerably subsided, rehabilitation can begin starting with gentle trunk range of motion exercises and stretching. Progressive strengthening exercises will then follow. The type of strengthening exercises provided will be determined by your physical therapist based on your needs and goals. Strengthening your injured muscle is key for your safe return to your usual activities.

Your physical therapist will also educate you about abdominal strains including precautions that you should follow and injury prevention tips. He or she may also provide you with a list of home health care and exercise program to follow when you get home. This may help speed up your recovery from abdominal strain.

Sources:

Abdominal Muscles. Website, Better Health Channel

Sprains and Strains. Website, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. Website, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)