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Abdominal Strain | Symptoms and Treatment with Physiotherapy

Every sports biopic instills an adrenaline rush in all of us to be the next Geeta Phogat or Rocky Balboa. The training, the struggle, and the thrill of performing in the bout fill us with vigor and inspiration. The ambition to be the next Mirabai Chanu is one of the greatest dreams any sportsperson can have, but we often overlook the physical strain and painful injuries that are bound to happen.

One of the most common physical or sports injuries that a sportsperson or even we in our daily life can get is an abdominal strain. Any tear, stretch, or rupture of the abdominal muscles is referred to as an abdominal strain in medical terminology. For this reason, it is also called a pulled stomach muscle. In contact sports, a muscle is overstretched and placed under more physical stress than it can withstand. If the symptoms are not diagnosed and treated properly, they can cause long-term injuries and pain that restrict severe physical movement.

What is an abdominal muscle strain?

In medical terminology, there are four main abdominal muscles, and a tear in the fibers that make up these muscles is called an abdominal strain. It can cause extreme discomfort and injuries with symptoms such as pain with any trunk movements. A strained or pulled abdominal muscle will vary from a mild stretch to a full stretch in the muscles.

When someone is injured and has a torn stomach muscle, in a sports-related activity, or otherwise, symptoms like pain are often immediate, it is hard to flex or stretch it out, there is a lack of movement, cramping, muscle spasms, and shooting pain is all associated with a torn abdominal muscle. There can also be swelling and bruising shortly after the medical injury. These injuries are caused by excessive overload, sudden twisting or fast movement, inappropriate approach when participating in sports, including not properly resting overused muscles, turning, and jumping, intense and excessive exercise, and sudden changes in intensity and position.

Abdominal tears are medically categorized into grades, each of which describes the degree of tearing with the injury. Grade I starts with slight discomfort, grade II with mild one, and in grade III, there is severe discomfort with difficulty in any activity unless treated via medical help.

What are the symptoms of a pulled stomach or abdominal muscle?

Abdominal muscle strain varies in severity depending on which grade is experienced. In first-degree abdominal muscle strain, mostly the result of a sports injury, a mild stretch of a muscle is diagnosed. It can result in localized pain, mild swelling, tendonitis, and pain with movement coughing, laughing, deep breathing, or sneezing.

In second-degree abdominal muscle strain, a more severe injury of an abdominal muscle may occur, such as a partial muscle tear. Depending on the number of fibers torn, the type of health injury may be quite debilitating. The patient may experience sudden abdominal pain, marked tenderness, localized swelling, and discoloration.

A third-degree muscle strain is, medically, the most severe injury and is diagnosed as a complete muscle rupture either at its insertion, origin, or midsection. The symptoms of a second-degree muscle strain, the symptoms of health shock, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, perspiration, difficulty breathing, and a shallow and rapid heart rate are also experienced.

Can you still exercise with a torn abdominal or pulled stomach muscle?

In a painful abdominal strain that needs medical help, it is important not to continue with any sports activities that aggravate the patient's symptoms. With the help and guidance of a physiotherapist, as and when the recovery of the injury is at different stages, these exercises can be done under supervision:

  • The Cobra is a medically-recognized yoga pose designed to stretch abdominal muscles. It is done with the patient lying on the stomach with hands positioned directly below the shoulders with elbows close to the sides. A couple of deep breaths are advised here. After exhaling, the patient pushes themselves up with their hands so that their shoulders are off the ground while keeping the hips and legs in contact with the ground. Keeping the back, glutes, and legs relaxed, this posture is held for 20 seconds. It's repeated three times, twice a day, to alleviate the symptoms adequately.
  • The alternating leg raise exercise while a patient is lying on their back pressed on the floor helps strengthen lower abdominal and stomach muscles. This movement is continued with alternate legs of 10 reps each.
  • After the pelvic tilt becomes easier, the dead bug is a healthy exercise that strengthens the bulk of abdominal muscles.

How to prevent abdominal muscle strain?

Taking preventive health measures for a rather painful abdominal strain is always better. Recurrent abdominal injuries can lead to medical complications in the future. When exercising, these few things should be kept in mind:

  • Before beginning any sport or physical activity, warm up and stretch.
  • Do cool down after exercise.
  • Before beginning any sport or physical activity, warm up and stretch.
  • Every time you start a new fitness routine, start off softly and build your way up to a higher intensity and longer length.

Core exercises like the bridge, plank, and side plank can improve the body's tenacity and flexibility. These require no additional equipment and can be modified in difficulty with more practice.

In general:

  • Bend your knees, hip & lower down, and straight back to lift the heavy object.
  • Maintain good posture while sitting and standing. Check your posture throughout the day.
  • If there is a requirement to sit for extended periods, it's necessary to take a break and move around often.

How to treat an abdominal muscle strain?

Acting diligently in an abdominal strain or a pulled stomach muscle is essential. Immediate medical treatment of symptoms is the P.R.I.C.E. principle- Protection, Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation. Starting with an ice pack for twenty minutes every two hours in an initial couple of days post-injury is essential. This helps reduce swelling and limits any health damage that can occur. Until the pain decreases, any activity, sports or otherwise, that causes further pain or injury to the abdominal or stomach muscles should be avoided.

Wrapping the abdomen with an elastic bandage keeps the pulled muscles under slight tension pressure promoting lymphatic draining and reducing inflammation. During the second week, isometric medical exercises are recommended, which contract a muscle without allowing any movement of the associated joints. This helps to increase the strength and endurance of the muscle.

The patient must lie on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Their lower back is pushed against the ground while contracting all the abdominal muscles at the same time. They hold this position for 10 seconds and then are released. It is repeated ten times. After healing, the patient can progress to concentric muscle exercises with the help of an expert.

Curl-up and diagonal curl-up are core exercises in the same lying position, and the patient keeps their knees flexed. The arms are extended at a 45-degree angle, parallel to the thighs. The abdominal muscles are contracted, and the head and shoulders are lifted off the floor (and towards each side in a diagonal curl-up) without crunching the neck. This position is held for 5 seconds and then released. It is repeated 12 times. Other treatments may include hydrotherapy, soft tissue treatment, and postural realignment.

Would a stomach strain have any long-term effects?

Any injury or strain, including stomach muscle strain, if ignored, will not only intensify pain but also will take a long and painful recovery time. It can also cause tendonitis and hinder rotational body movements and any activity requiring physical strength. An abdominal strain's long-term health effects depend on the strain's grade. Grades one and two abdominal strains usually resolve effectively with a physiotherapy program and rest from aggravating sports-related activities. A grade three rupture may require surgical intervention, but it is still important to begin physiotherapy before and after the operation to optimize recovery.

Abdominal strain treatment services at PhysioTattva

The doctors and medical professionals at PhysioTattva help first locate the exact area of tenderness and inflammation of the abdominal muscle strain. With the help of an X-ray, ultrasound, or M.R.I., a clear image of the sports injury is visible. The Graston technique focuses on muscle work to facilitate healing in patients suffering from strains. Manual physical therapy is the general approach in which skilled therapists use specific techniques, such as mobilization. It aims to enhance the propensity of motion, assist in relaxing the area and make the victim more flexible.

The physiotherapists at PhysioTattva also practice exercise programs to help return to daily activities and encourage a healthy and active lifestyle. The trained and experienced physical therapists also use other techniques like electrical nerve stimulation, heat therapy, and ultrasound therapy depending on the patient-specific requirements and the severity of symptoms and degree of pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a pulled muscle in the abdomen feel like?

A pulled abdominal muscle can feel sore, and painful, and can restrict movement. You may also experience spasms, bruising, and tenderness. 

How do you treat a pulled abdominal muscle?

The most effective way to treat a pulled abdominal muscle is rest. Taking a step back and avoiding any physical activity that can add to the strain is essential. Further, you can also wrap an ice pack in a cloth and place it on your abdomen for at least 20 minutes. Repeat this practice 2-3 times a day. 

How do you know if you pull a stomach muscle?

You can determine a pulled abdominal muscle based on the following signs- 

  • Soreness or tenderness
  • Swelling 
  • Restricted movement 
  • Bruising 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain 

How long does a pulled muscle in the stomach take to heal?

An abdominal muscle pull or strain is an overuse injury characterized by a tear stretch of the abdominal muscles. This injury is common among athletes or those who engage in intense physical activity. With regular physiotherapy, a mild pull can heal in a few weeks whereas a serious pull takes 4 to 6 weeks to completely heal.

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