All you want is to become stronger and fitter, but pain in your abs is holding you back. A tenderness in your lower belly not only affects your ability to crunch and twist, it can cause discomfort when you reach or change direction — it might even hurt when you sneeze!
Most pulled abdominal muscles occur in the lower portion of your stomach, where the muscle attaches to your pelvis. This painful condition shows up as tenderness, inflammation and possible swelling. The degree of abdominal pulls vary from mild to severe. You may even have felt a sharp pain when the muscle pulled, especially if you reached the serious point of rupture.
If you're not sure when the injury happened, know you most often pull your abs when lifting heavy weights or during an activity that involves quick changes of direction and position. Usually, you pull your rectus abdominis -- the superficial front ab muscle that makes up your six-pack -- but it is possible to pull the side muscles of your internal or external obliques.
A quick turn on the soccer field, flip on a trampoline, twist in field hockey or shift of direction when you're moving at a rapid speed during football could lead to a pulled abdominal muscle. Extreme hyperextension of the spine -- such as happens during some gymnastic moves -- can also cause an abdominal muscle injury.
Gymnasts, pole vaulters, baseball players, shotput and javelin throwers and wrestlers are some of the most likely athletes to experience the injury. When you lift weights, especially Olympic style with snatches and cleans, you could also cause damage.
Too many sit-ups could cause overuse and muscle strain, too. If you're new to exercise, want to get fit fast and perform 100 sit-ups or crunches, you could very well have aggravated or pulled the abdominal muscle.
In all these cases, the injury occurs when the force of your movement is stronger than what your muscles can bear. The muscle stretches and if you keep going, the fibers start to tear. When you're moving quickly, it's hard to stop in time to prevent the damage. A mild pull is an over-stretch while an acute pull could be a full-on tear, which is bad news.
Rest is one of the most effective ways to treat a pulled abdominal muscle. Hold off on performing crunches, stabilization and twists until the pain dissipates and a doctor has cleared you for activity. Continuing to work out an injured muscle will prolong the discomfort and could worsen it.
As the muscle heals, apply an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time several times per day. You might find that a little heat, such as a warm bath or heated washcloth, relaxes the muscle so you can function. If your pulled muscle is accompanied by swelling, do not use heat.
If your doctor approves it, over-the-counter pain relievers may also help lessen the pain. Don't use them to be a hero and "work" through the pain; you won't get benefit if you continue to exercise the injured muscle.
You may think it's obvious, but not doing too much too soon is a simple way to avoid a pulled abdominal muscle. Other strategies to keep in mind:
- Warm up before you do any exercise, even a set of sit-ups. Warming up increases blood flow to muscles and joints, making them more mobile and less vulnerable to injury.
- Ease into a new workout program. Regardless of how "in-shape" you perceive yourself to be, if an exercise is new to you, stick to light weights and emphasize form. Keep to a modest number of repetitions, too.
- Use proper technique when lifting, even to set up an exercise. Ask a friend to spot you and use a barbell rack when a weight is too heavy to lift safely from the ground.