An abdominal strain occurs when the rectus abdominus is torn or ruptured. The abdominal muscles allow movement, assist with breathing, and provide support to the spine. They consist of the internal and external obliques, rectus abdominus, and the transversus abdominus. The transversus abdominus muscle is triangular and flat, and the rectus abdominus is long and flat. If the abdominal muscles become weak or tight, they can cause poor posture and back pain.
There are three types of abdominal muscle strain; grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3.
A grade 1 strain occurs when a few muscle fibres are torn;
a grade 2 strain occurs when the tears to the muscle fibres are more extensive;
and a grade 3 strain occurs when there is a complete rupture of the muscle
Any sport which involves a fast movement or sudden change in direction can cause abdominal muscle strain. Gymnasts, weight lifters, rowers, throwers are particularly susceptible to abdominal strain.
Insufficient warming up and cooling down
Trauma to the stomach
Poor core stability and strength
A sudden explosive movement
Over use of the abdominal muscles
Pain when the rectus abdominus (stomach muscles) are tightened (contracted).
A sudden sharp pain, which could indicate a rupture.
It is important to warm up and cool down properly, and this will prevent tearing or rupturing the abdominal muscle.
Depending on the severity of the strain to the abdominal muscles it can take from a few days to a few weeks. A grade 3 strain can vary from a few weeks to 3 months.
Rest: In the acute stage and depending on the severity of the strain the sub acute phase, it is in important to rest. It is important to rest until the pain has eased. Rest has proven to be an effective form of treatment, and enables the muscles to repair themselves. Returning to exercise too soon can result in the injury reoccurring and becoming chronic.
However, after the acute stage (the first 48-72 hours), when inflammation has started to ease, it is important to start gentle exercises and stretching to prevent muscle wastage (atrophy) and weakness occurring.
In the sub a cute (3 days to 3 weeks) and the chronic stage (3 weeks to 2 years) it is important that training should be adapted to avoid stomach crunches, or any exercises that put excessive strain on the rectus abdominus muscles. A physiotherapist or sports massage therapist can advise when exercise should be resumed and what exercise would be appropriate. It is important to always warm up and cool down properly when exercising. When muscles are cold and not properly loosened and warmed up they are more liable to become pulled or strained.
Ice treatment: Ice, can be applied for 10-15 minutes, every 2-3 hours in the acute and sub- acute stage (frequency can be reduced according to recovery, and can be continued for as long as deemed necessary). An ice stick can be good for massaging the specific area. As the ice is directly massaged onto the skin, and is quite intense, it can be applied for less time 7-12 minutes. Ice can help reduce inflammation and bleeding to the tissues, and by numbing the pain, it is an effective form of pain relief.
In the sub-acute stage (3days – 3 weeks) heat therapy can be applied, usually in the form of a hot bath or a hot water bottle. Heat therapy is a particularly effective form of treatment for an abdominal sprain or strain, and can be alternated with ice
NSAIDS (anti-inflammatories) and paracetamol can be taken to aid pain relief. Medical advice should be sought, in case of possible side effects.
Orthotics can prevent overprontation and make sure there is no undue strain placed on the alignment of the spine, which if left untreated could result in abdominal muscle strain. It is therefore, worth consulting a podiatrist, who can perform gait analysis and advice on appropriate foot wear.
Kinesology taping to the affected muscle can be effective in the recovery phase
A doctor or physiotherapist might recommend an MRI scan to assess the extent of rupture. In severe cases surgery might be performed.
A physiotherapist might prescribe ultrasound treatment, sound waves; which speeds up the repair process, by breaking down tissues and stretching them. It can also help alleviate pain.
Published: April 16, 2012Author: Sophia Cross, BA (Hons) MA