Pulled Abdominal Muscle Symptoms and Treatment

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An abdominal muscle strain, also called a pulled abdominal muscle, is an injury to one of the muscles of the abdominal wall. A muscle strain occurs when the muscle is stretched too far. When this occurs the muscle fibers are torn.

Most commonly, a strain causes microscopic tears within the muscle. Occasionally, in severe injuries, the muscle can rupture from its attachment.


Symptoms of a Pulled Abdominal Muscle
 Verywell / Emily Roberts

The abdominal wall is made up of several muscles, including:

  • Rectus abdominis: The muscle over the front of the belly that gives you a "six-pack" appearance when it's well developed.
  • Internal and external obliques: Wrap around the sides of the body and help you bend.

Abdominal muscle strains usually cause immediate pain in the area of the injured muscle. It can be hard to flex the muscle because of this pain. The other common symptom is muscle spasm of the injured muscle. Less commonly, swelling and bruising can result from a muscle injury.

An abdominal strain is sometimes confused with an epigastric hernia in which the lining of the abdominal cavity protrudes through the abdominal wall. While the symptoms are similar, a hernia will often cause a bulge on the surface of the belly.


Abdominal muscle strains are graded according to the severity of the injury:

  • Grade I (mild): Mild discomfort, often no disability. Usually does not limit activity.
  • Grade II (moderate): Moderate discomfort, can limit the ability to perform activities such as crunches or twisting movements.
  • Grade III (severe): Severe injury that can cause pain with normal activities. Often patients complain of muscle spasm and bruising.

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of a severe abdominal strain, you should be evaluated for proper treatment. If normal daily activities such as walking, sitting, or sleeping are disrupted because of your injury, then you should have the injury evaluated by a doctor.

If you're unsure if you have an abdominal strain or the symptoms do not quickly resolve, then you should be evaluated. Physicians and physical therapists can be helpful in guiding you in treatment that may speed your recovery.


Treatment of an abdominal muscle injury is difficult. There's no way to splint the abdomen and it's nearly impossible to fully rest these muscles.

That said, the most important step after you sustain an abdominal muscle strain is to allow the muscle to cool down so that the inflammation can subside. Avoiding exercise to allow the injured muscle to heal is important. Activities that cause pain or spasm of the abdominal muscles should also be avoided.

Gentle stretching is helpful, but it should not be painful. Stretching excessively can be harmful, and even slow the healing process.

Apply ice to the injured area in the acute phase (the first 48 hours after injury), and then after activities. Before activities, gentle heat can help to loosen the muscle.

One the injury is fully healed, you can avoid reoccurrence by practicing some common-sense preventive tips.

How to Prevent Reinjury

  • Never overexert yourself while exercising.
  • Avoiding exercises with explosive, "jerking" movements.
  • Focus on isometric or resistance exercises that strengthen your core muscles with steady and controlled movements.
  • Avoid hyperextending your back when lifting weights.
  • Tighten your core muscles if you have to cough or sneeze.

A Word From Verywell

Some people find treatments such as ultrasound, therapeutic massage, and specific exercises particularly helpful. You should see your physician to determine if these would be appropriate for your condition.

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  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, OrthoInfo, "Diseases and Conditions: Muscle Contusion (Bruise)"

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