You want to continue your workouts, but ab pain holds you back. Pain and tenderness in this area affect your ability to perform abdominal twists and cause discomfort when you change direction or even when you move during sleep. The first thing you need to do is to identify the cause.
Pulled abdominal muscles after exercise are often due to overtraining, sudden movements, muscular imbalances or poor lifting form. This type of injury is preventable and can be treated at home.
Causes of Pulled Abdominal Muscles
Pulled an abdominal muscle? You are not alone. A November 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 8.6 million sports and recreation-related injuries occur each year. The lower body is the most likely to be injured.
Generally, this type of injury occurs in the lower portion of your stomach, where the muscle attaches to your pelvis. It shows up as tenderness, inflammation and swelling, and the degree of pain can range from mild to severe. You might have even felt a sharp pain when the muscle pulled, especially if you reached the serious point of rupture.
The causes of such pain could stem from a number of movements, including the following:
Working out too hard — Harvard Health Publishing states that strength exercises for all major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, abdomen, arms, hips and shoulders) need one set of eight to 12 repetitions per session to be effective. You can slowly work up to two to three sets.
Overtraining — According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you can exercise too much. This may cause your performance to suffer and in turn, have poor exercise form and make yourself vulnerable to injury. To avoid this, you should cut back or stop exercising when under stress and rest for at least six hours between workouts.
Bad lifting form — The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends slowly lifting with the knees, not the back. You should also avoid twisting your back when you bend.
Muscular imbalances — The American Council on Exercise (ACE) points out that muscle imbalances are potential causes of injury. If muscles on one side are too tight from overuse, the muscles on the opposite side become too weak from lack of use. This creates improper control of movement and you could end up pulling a muscle.
Sudden maneuvers — Tweaking your body stepping out of a shower, reacting to loud noises or twisting your body to avoid a hard fall can all end with a pulled muscle.
Treatment and Prevention
Treating your pulled muscle should be a top priority — otherwise, you will continue to experience lower abdominal pain when doing planks, abdominal twists and basic crunches.
One of the most effective ways to treat this injury, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is to simply rest your body. Hold off on performing ab exercises until the pain dissipates and a doctor has cleared you for activity. Continuing to work out with a pulled muscle will prolong the discomfort and even worsen the pain.
After the first few days, you can apply ice and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, to reduce the pain. As your symptoms subside, you may apply heat to the affected area.
To help prevent future pulled muscles, you should take the following precautions:
- Warm up before any exercise, even a set of crunches. Warming up increases blood flow to muscles and joints, making them more mobile and less vulnerable to workout injuries, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
- Ease into a lower abdominal muscle workout. Regardless of your workout routine — whether you're a beginner or advanced — keep to a modest number of repetitions when you return to exercise.
- Always follow proper technique when lifting, whether you are weightlifting or simply picking up your groceries.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Muscle Strain Treatment”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Muscle Strain”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Lifting and Bending the Right Way”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Are You Getting Too Much Exercise?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "7 Tips for a Safe and Successful Strength-Training Program"
- American Council on Exercise: "6 Things to Know About Muscle Imbalances"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sports- and Recreation-related Injury Episodes in the United States, 2011–2014"