What is an oblique strain? Causes, symptoms, treatment, and exercises

obliqueAn oblique strain can be terribly uncomfortable, yet many people don’t even know where the oblique muscles are located. A better understanding of the oblique muscles can help you should you ever get a strained oblique.

Before we address what an oblique strain is, we will review where the oblique muscles are. They are a group of important abdominal muscles that allow you to bend sideways and twist the trunk of your body. So, just where is the oblique muscle? Well, the tops of the obliques connect to the ribs and the lower end connects to the hipbone.


We all have external and internal oblique muscles. External obliques are large and sit on the top surface of the abdomen right below the subcutaneous fat and skin. Internal obliques are underneath the external obliques on each side of the trunk. They are deeper than external obliques.

Obliques are used for maintaining balance, as well as for various activities, including movement and strength. They help us during heavy lifting and vigorous exercise, so it should not come as a surprise that those who are active or those who are professional athletes experience oblique muscle strain. Oblique strains can be mild or severe. If untreated, it can lead to further damage.


What are the causes and symptoms of an oblique muscle strain?

Oblique strain causes are really related to sudden forceful movements. Some examples include high-intensity crunches or sit-ups. Also, sports like baseball, tennis, and golf have been known to cause oblique strain symptoms. It is important to know that aside from overuse of abdominal muscles, injury or trauma to the abdomen can also cause oblique muscle strain. Below we outline some specific causes that can lead to oblique muscle strain symptoms.

  • Chronic sneezing and coughing
  • Sitting in one place for a long time
  • Lifting heavy materials or tools
  • Doing abdominal exercises without proper preparation
  • Unimproved posture
  • Anything hitting the abdomen directly
  • Rowing, paddling, raking or bowling
  • Surgery that results in formation of wounded tissue

The following list covers the typical symptoms of strained oblique muscles, but each case of muscle strain is slightly different depending on the cause.

  • Stiffness, especially when you wake up in the morning
  • Aching
  • Shooting pain in the lower chest region
  • Pain in the side of the abdomen when bending or twisting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Pain when laughing, sneezing, coughing, or breathing deep

Oblique muscle pain usually occurs during contraction and relaxation of muscles; however, it can happen during rest as well. If you have a minor strain, the pain is much worse when you try to engage in exercise. The pain occurs due to microscopic tears in muscle fibers. Some people find that the stiffness is so extreme that they have difficulty carrying out daily tasks. Usually, bruising and swelling happen when there is a severe strain.

How to treat an oblique strain

Let’s look at how to treat a strained oblique muscle. Many doctors recommend what is commonly referred to as the R-I-C approach for oblique strain treatment immediately after the strain occurs. R-I-C stands for Rest, Ice, and Compression. For a full explanation of this treatment for oblique strain and other oblique muscle strain treatment, review the list below:

R-I-C: Rest, Ice, Compression

  • Rest – avoid all activities that involve sports or that could aggravate the pain as they can interfere with healing.
  • Ice – use ice to prevent and reduce inflammation and pain. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t apply the ice directly to the skin since it can damage tissue.
  • Compression – apply a compression bandage by wrapping your abdominal muscles in an elastic bandage designed for this type of injury. It can provide support while you are healing.


Avoid heat for the first 72 hours. After three days have passed, use a warm compress to help increase blood flow. A heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket will work. Like ice, you shouldn’t apply heat directly to the skin. Apply the heat for 15 to 20 minutes and wait about an hour before repeating.


Some people find that a deep tissue massage helps with healing. Massage can help realign new collagen fibers, improve blood flow, and relax any tight muscles.


At some point during the recovery process you can consult with a doctor about doing light exercises, including stretches, push-ups, and yoga-type movements.

Over-the-counter pain relievers

There are situations where a doctor may suggest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. They can help reduce swelling and pain.


There are times when a back brace can be used to support the oblique muscle and prevent it from further damage. People who are unable to take time off work and have to bend or lift on the job will often try a brace.

There tends to be a lot of anxiety around oblique strain recovery. In most cases though, an oblique muscle strain will heal within a couple weeks. This is, of course, when proper care is administered. More severe cases may take four to six weeks. Since oblique strain recovery time is different in each individual case, it can be counterproductive to compare yourself to others. Just know that once oblique strain heals, chances are you will be able to return to your normal activities.

Exercises for an oblique muscle strain

Oblique strain exercises can be crucial for recovery, so we have included the following list of oblique exercises, but remember to consult with your doctor before attempting any exercise post-injury.

Side plank:

Lie down on your injured side and bend your knees. Lift your body up with your forearm from the injured side and knees. As soon as you are resting on the forearm, hold for 20 seconds.


Standing with your feet slightly apart, lift the arm on the side with the injury and gently bend your body in the opposite direction to feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and return to the starting position. If it is painful, stop.

Upward-facing dog:

Lie facedown with legs extended and together. Put your hands parallel to your shoulder on the floor. Push your upper body up and arch your back with your legs remaining on the floor. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

Abdominal drawing-in maneuver:

Lie with your back on the floor and bend your knees with your feet remaining flat on the floor. Pull your belly button towards your spine. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Pelvic tilt:

Lie on your back, bending your knees and keeping your feet flat on the floor. Start pulling your belly button towards your spine as you push your lower back into the floor. Hold your back flat in this position for about 15 seconds, relax and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Partial curl:

Lie down on your back and keep your knees bent with feet on the floor. Draw your belly button toward your abdomen and start tightening your abdominal muscles. The next step is to stretch your hands in front of you, curl the upper part of your body in a forward direction, and hold this until your shoulders clear the floor. Remain like this for three seconds, then relax and repeat 10 times.

Dead bug posture:

Lay on your back; bend your knees while keeping the arms by your side. Keep your feet flat on the floor as you draw your abdomen in and tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise one leg and the opposite arm up a few inches above the floor and hold this position for about five seconds. Relax and repeat five times using each leg and arm.

Diagonal curl:

Lie down with your back and knees bent, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Clasp your hand below the neck to support your head. Start pulling the abdomen in and lift your head and right shoulder from the floor. Start rotating your trunk toward the left side. Stay in this position for three seconds and start again, only with the other side. Repeat up to 15 times for both sides.

Oblique strain healing time can seem frustrating, but being careful and following proper treatment over the short period is worth it in the long run. One point that people can forget is strengthening and conditioning their muscles following an oblique strain. Before you resume any physical activity, you need to regain strength, so be sure to consult with a doctor about strength exercises. You may even benefit from working with a physical therapist.

Tips to consider for oblique muscle strain exercises


Post workout nutrition can also be an important part of oblique strain healing time. If you have been approved for exercise following an oblique strain, consider consuming a good recovery drink or food within 45 minutes of completing that workout. This could be a smoothie with fruit and yogurt or milk in it. Combining a carbohydrate and protein can provide optimal recovery for your oblique muscles. Drinking adequate amounts of water every day is also vital. The best approach is to drink water before, during, and after your workout. If you consider your workouts strenuous and you are sweating, you should seriously consider increasing the amount of water you drink. Our muscle tissue is about 70 percent water and fluids are lost during exercise, so replenishing is important. Sufficient protein is something else to think about if you have had an oblique strain. Lean protein can help rebuild damaged tissue. The recommended amount of protein is .7 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Having an oblique muscle strain is not unusual. In other words, when you are suffering from this type of muscle strain, remember that you are not alone and that you won’t feel pain and the other symptoms that come with oblique strain forever. Following a proper treatment plan that includes a period of rest and doctor-approved exercises will help you recover and return to your normal routine, including the activities you enjoy. If you try to rush your recovery, it could cause longer-term, chronic pain.

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