The oblique muscles make up 2 of the 4 abdominal muscles in the body and are separated into internal and external segments. These core muscles play an important role in many common activities, including sitting, standing and walking. A strain injury to one or both of the abdominal obliques -- which occurs when the muscle is overstretched or partially torn -- can be both painful and debilitating.
An oblique strain is usually characterized initially by sudden, sharp pain on or around the rib cage. The area is often tender to the touch, and a bruise may develop, depending on the severity. Twisting and bending motions are typically painful. The oblique muscles are more active while sitting up than while lying down. As a result, even sitting or standing may be painful following a strain. Deep breathing, sneezing or coughing also commonly elicits pain.
The oblique muscles are active during forward bending, side bending and twisting movements. As a result, a strain is usually preceded by one of these motions. These types of injuries are frequently associated with sports such as baseball, golf or tennis. Higher-intensity exercises targeting the abdominals, such as sit-ups or crunches, can also be responsible. However, even something as simple as chronic coughing or sneezing can cause an oblique strain.
Oblique strains can take up to 10 weeks to resolve. The best initial treatment for an oblique strain consists of icing the affected area, avoiding aggravating activities and taking antiinflammatory medication -- such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) -- if advised by your doctor. As the initial pain subsides, stretching and core-strengthening exercises may be gradually reintroduced as you're able to tolerate them.