Abdominal swelling after exercise may be normal after the stress placed on your core during exercise, especially if you did an intense abs workout. In some cases, it may indicate a more serious condition or injury, such as a hernia.
If your stomach is swollen after your workout, it may be normal muscle inflammation and soreness or bloating water that is still in your stomach. However, it may indicate a more serious condition or injury such as a hernia or rhabdomyolysis.
Swollen Stomach Muscle
Abdominal swelling after an ab workout or any workout that involves your core may be caused by inflamed muscles in your abs. It is one of the the things that causes muscle soreness after your workout. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and is common after exercise. The soreness and inflammation should start to improve 48 hours after your workout.
If the pain is severe or doesn't start to improve after 72 hours, you may have pushed yourself too hard during the workout. Be sure to scale back and build your strength and endurance slowly to avoid injury.
Abdominal Bloating After Exercise
If your abdomen is bloated after exercise, it may be from water in your stomach. Water is absorbed into your body through the small intestine, but if you chug a large amount of water during or after your workout, it may take time for the fluid to move from your stomach to the small intestine.
Some people opt to drink sports drinks instead of water following a workout because of the added electrolytes. Unfortunately many of these beverages also have added carbohydrates which causes the stomach to empty the contents into the small intestines at a slower rate, advises NASM's American Fitness magazine. In addition, the fructose contained in some beverages can cause gas, which further contributes to bloating.
Be sure to drink water throughout the day so you aren't going into your workout dehydrated. Drink water during and after your workout to stay hydrated and replenish fluids lost through sweat. Listen to your body's needs. Drinking a lot during a workout may be fine for some people, but may cause stomach distress for others.
Abdominal Wall Hernia
In some cases swelling in your abdomen after a workout may be caused by a hernia. An abdominal hernia occurs when the organs and contents of the abdomen protrude out due to a weakness or tear in the abdominal wall, advises Harvard Health Publishing. In this case, you will see a bulge in the abdomen where the hernia is located rather than general swelling.
A sports hernia has similar symptoms but is actually a tear in the muscles, tendons or ligaments. These occur in the lower abdomen or groin area.
If you suspect you have a hernia, contact your doctor. Although hernias are not always painful, there can be complications that may require surgical treatment. For example, if the blood supply is cut off to the organ, that is called a strangulated hernia and may result in a tear in the GI track or a serious infection and inflammation of the abdominal cavity.
- National Kidney Foundation: "Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much Is Too Much?"
- American Fitness: "Hydration: Through the Lens of Fitness and Health"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Hernia"
- Merck Manual, Professional Version: "Hernias of the Abdominal Wall"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Rhabdo: A Rare but Serious Complication of… Exercise"