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How to Recognise and Treat Abdominal Muscle Strain Effectively

How to Recognise and Treat Abdominal Muscle Strain Effectively

An abdominal muscle strain occurs when the fibres of the abdominal muscles tear, often due to sudden movements, heavy lifting, or intense exercise. Symptoms include sharp pain, swelling, bruising, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving. Immediate treatment involves the P.R.I.C.E. principle: Protection, Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation. Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes every few hours to reduce swelling and pain. As recovery progresses, incorporate physiotherapy exercises like pelvic tilts and gentle stretches to regain strength and flexibility. Consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and personalised treatment plan.

What is an Abdominal Muscle Strain?

Medically, the abdominal region consists of four main muscles, and a tear in the fibres of these muscles is referred to as an abdominal strain. It can cause extreme discomfort and injuries, as well as 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 categorized into grades, each describing 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 the grade experienced. In first-degree abdominal muscle strain, which is mostly the result of a sports injury, a mild stretch of a muscle is diagnosed. It can result in localised 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 fibres torn, the type of health injury may be quite debilitating. The patient may experience sudden abdominal pain, marked tenderness, localised swelling, and discolouration.

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, health shock, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, perspiration, difficulty breathing, and a shallow and rapid heart rate are also experienced.

What Does a Torn Stomach Muscle Feel Like?

A torn stomach muscle, often referred to as an abdominal strain, can feel like a sharp and sudden pain in the abdominal area. This pain might be localised to a specific spot where the tear occurred and can intensify with certain movements or activities, such as coughing, laughing, or bending. The affected area may also feel tender to the touch, and in some cases, there might be visible bruising or swelling.

When the injury first occurs, people often describe the sensation as a sharp pull or tear. Depending on the severity of the muscle tear, the pain can range from mild discomfort to severe, incapacitating pain. Activities that engage the abdominal muscles, like getting up from a lying position or performing abdominal exercises, can exacerbate the pain.

Pulled Stomach Muscle Female Symptoms

A pulled stomach muscle female symptoms, or an abdominal strain, can present several symptoms that are similar to those experienced by males, though there might be some specific considerations due to anatomical differences or concurrent conditions like menstruation or pregnancy. Here are the common symptoms:

  1. Sharp or aching pain: This is often the primary symptom. The pain might be localised to the site of the strain and can intensify with movements that stretch or further strain the muscle, such as twisting the body, bending, or laughing.
  2. Swelling and bruising: Depending on the severity of the strain, there might be visible swelling or bruising in the abdominal area.
  3. Muscle spasms: Sometimes, the injured muscle may spasm, leading to sudden and severe pain that temporarily worsens.
  4. Reduced mobility: The pain and discomfort may make it difficult to perform normal activities, such as standing up straight, walking, or bending.
  5. Tenderness: The area over the pulled muscle may feel tender to touch, and this tenderness can be more pronounced during certain activities or even while resting.

For women, these symptoms might be complicated by or mistaken for gynaecological issues or pregnancy-related conditions, so it's important to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management. 

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 by the patient lying on the stomach with hands positioned directly below the shoulders and 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.

Rehabilitation Exercises for Abdominal Muscle Strain

Rehabilitation exercises for an abdominal muscle strain promote recovery, strengthen the abdominal muscles, and prevent future injuries. Here's a general overview of exercises that might be recommended during the recovery from such a strain:

Pelvic Tilts: 

  • This gentle exercise helps strengthen the lower abdominal muscles and stabilises the spine.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and push your lower back into the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then relax.


  • This exercise targets the lower back and abdominal muscles.
  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Lift your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower your hips back to the floor.

Heel Slides: 

  • Heel slides are good for engaging the core without straining it too much.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Slowly straighten one leg, slide the heel along the floor, and then return to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Standing Bicycle Crunches: 

  • This exercise involves less stress on the spine than traditional crunches.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Place your hands behind your head and bring one knee up while twisting the opposite elbow to meet it.
  • Alternate sides in a controlled manner.

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.

General Recommendations:

  • 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 the associated joints to move. 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 they contract all the abdominal muscles simultaneously. 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 intensify pain and 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 optimise 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 MRI, 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 mobilisation. 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

1. 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. 

2. 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. 

3. 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 

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

An abdominal muscle pull or strain is an overuse injury characterised 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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