What Causes Intestinal Twisting When Doing Sit-Ups?

Besides a deep burn in your muscles or the occasional harmless cracking sound from a joint, you might feel weird sensations while you're working out. If you start to feel a strange sensation coming from your abdomen while doing sit-ups it can be concerning. Sit-ups work your abs, and put pressure on your organs because they're surrounded by your ab muscles. It's not unreasonable to be concerned about an organ injury.

What Causes Intestinal Twisting When Doing Sit-Ups? (Image: leolintang/iStock/Getty Images)

If you've never heard of intestinal twisting, the name says it all. It's the name of a condition which involves your intestines twisting around each other and blocking passage of waste and even blood supply through the rest of the organ. It is as serious as it sounds, but thankfully this isn't a problem that is caused by sit-ups. You are more likely to experience a less serious, but possibly more painful condition called an inguinal hernia due to repetitive sit-ups.

Intestinal Twisting

Intestinal twisting, otherwise known as volvulus, is as serious as it sounds. A piece of the intestine loops around and cuts off a different part of the intestine. When this happens some of the symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pain
  • Distended Abdomen
  • Constipation

While these symptoms can be indicative of a different medical problem, such as an illness or bowel problem, it's important to take them seriously. The good news is that volvulus is very rare in adults. It is, however, much more prevalent in children.


Most cases of volvulus, or intestinal twisting, are caused by a birth defect called malrotation. During pregnancy, the intestines form abnormally in the baby. This happens in about one in every 500 births, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

Since the intestines are formed abnormally they are more prone to twisting, which causes nausea, vomiting, and abnormal bowel movements. If the intestine is cut off from its blood supply for too long the tissue can die. Thankfully, as long as it is addressed early enough the likelihood of a successful recovery is very high.

Intestinal Twisting in Adults

Intestinal twisting is much more rare in adults, affecting only about three in every 100,000. There are more incidences in less developed nations, most likely due to a lower-quality diet.

In Western societies, vulvulus is most likely caused by chronic constipation or a high fiber diet, Dr. Scott C. Thornton wrote on Medscape. When the intestines are too full of waste they are much more likely to twist.

Interestingly enough, the current Western diet, which tends to be lower in fiber, mixed with certain medications like painkillers that cause constipation can lead to volvulus in the elderly.


Treating volvulus requires surgery to untwist the intestines. If the intestines were cut-off from their blood supply the dead tissue has to be removed. After the surgery, it is important to re-hydrate and be vigilant for any recurring symptoms, since volvulus can re-occur, according to 2012 research in Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery.

Inguinal Hernias

Sit-ups can cause inguinal hernias, which means that part of the intestine has been pushed through the abdominal wall, down towards the groin. Inguinal hernias occur when pressure is increased in the abdomen. Many ab exercises, such as the sit-up, increase abdominal pressure because the ab muscles are contracting and creating less space in the abdomen.

In it's most extreme form, an inguinal hernia can mimic volvulus in that the patient will have nausea, vomiting, and constipation. If this happens surgery is the only way to correct the problem, notes MedlinePlus.

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