What is a pulled abdominal muscle? Causes, symptoms, and treatment

pulled abdominal muscleHaving a pulled abdominal muscle can be a minor inconvenience or a major discomfort depending on the severity and cause. In most cases, the after effects of a pulled abdominal muscle can be addressed with home remedies; however, there are some cases where medical intervention is required.

When your body is weak or your abdomen is injured, you can experience a pulled abdominal muscle. It will either be a mild or severe tear or pain. When the problem recurs, it could be a sign of muscle fiber strain or a severe tear.


Abdominal muscles are what we call core muscles. They are situated on the front side of the body, between the pelvis and the ribs. They provide support to our trunk, hold organs in place, and play an important role in bodily movement.

Thankfully, pulled abdominal muscles can be easily diagnosed from symptoms and usually don’t require special tests.

What causes pulled abdominal muscle?

Overstretching when exercising or participating in sports can cause a pulled abdominal muscle. This often happens during sudden twists and bending from the trunk. Batting, serving during tennis, volleyball, and golf are examples of sports that can cause a pulled muscle. A pulled abdominal muscle can also be caused by overuse of the muscles.

When people fail to warm up before taking part in strenuous exercises, they can pull muscles in their abdomen. In some cases, even coughing can cause a pulled muscle. While it may sound trivial, if the injury is severe, the abdominal muscle can rupture. This is something that doctors have seen with people who have been in car accidents.

There are people who experience pulled abdominal muscles when they lift an excessive amount of weight abruptly. This can cause a tear. Lifting weights is an example of a situation where this might occur.

What are the symptoms of pulled abdominal muscle?

A pulled abdominal muscle normally causes pain and tenderness, but there are specific categories or levels for symptoms. Sometimes symptoms will be aggravated by any activity that stretches the injured muscle. Movements due to sneezing, coughing, reaching or twisting can make symptoms worse. Pulled abdominal muscle symptoms gradually go away as the injury starts to heal.

The following are typical symptoms of pulled abdominal muscles:

  • Spasm, bruising, swelling—spasm can occur in cases where the muscle is strained following injury. In situations where there is a sizeable tear or rupture, bruising and swelling can happen.
  • Low-density pain—this normally occurs with a mild strain and doesn’t impact body movement. Often people find relief within a few days with this type of mild pain.
  • Severe pain—a moderate or severe strain or tear can lead to severe pain. Body movement is a struggle. In some cases, a bandage is recommended to stabilize the area where the injury has occurred.
  • Acute pain—this is strong piercing pain that requires immediate medical attention. It could include bruising, swelling, spasms, and cramps.

If you were to get what feels like a pulled abdominal muscle, but notice other symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, or vomiting, you should seek medical attention without delay.

Home remedies for pulled abdominal muscle

Treatment for pulled abdominal muscle ranges from rest, to medical interventions. If you pull a muscle in your abdomen and it doesn’t heal within a few days, you should see a doctor to make sure you have not sustained a serious injury.

Here is a list of some common pulled abdominal muscle treatment:

  • Cease activity – If you know that a specific activity caused the strain, stop participating in the activity so the injury can heal.
  • Rest – Some rest can help the muscle relax and repair. Some people find bandages or wraps help control muscle movements during the rest phase. Those who generally twist, turn, or lift on the job may have to take some time off work to rest the abdominal area.
  • Cold pack – Applying a cold pack for 15–20 minutes two to three times a day can be helpful.
  • Warm pack – Using a warm compress can help reduce pain, but you have to be careful not to make the pack too hot as it could burn the skin and cause further inflammation.
  • Stretching – A week or two after the injury, some people find that light stretching exercises help strengthen the abdominal area and reduce stiffness.

Pain medications, muscle relaxants, and gels are sometimes suggested in cases where pain and inflammation is unbearable. Still, most healthcare providers agree that the best treatment for pulled abdominal muscles is rest. While it sounds easy, it can be difficult for some people to slow down and relax. You also have to consider that your abdominal muscles are used for almost all your movements, including sitting up and standing. If you have difficulty with resting positions this is where tapes and wraps will come in handy.

Exercises for pulled abdominal muscle

Aside from the above treatments, there are exercises you can do once you have started recovering from pulled abdominal muscle. Many fitness experts suggest that even people who haven’t experienced a muscle strain, like a pulled abdominal muscle, should consider some of the following exercises since they will help strengthen the core, thus preventing injury.

  • Abdominal drawing in – Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and try pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Hold for about 15 seconds, relax, and repeat five to ten times.
  • Pelvic tilt – Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Try pulling your belly button in towards your spine while pushing your lower back into the floor. Hold for 15 seconds, relax and repeat 5 to 10 times.
  • Dead bug – Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms at your side, and feet flat on the floor. Draw in your abdomen while tightening your abdominal muscles. Lift one leg several inches off the floor; hold 5 seconds then lower it. Repeat this with the opposite leg. The second step of this exercise is to lift our arm over your head, hold it for 5 seconds then lower it. Repeat with the opposite arm. You can do a few repetitions with each leg and arm.
  • Partial curl – Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Draw in your abdomen and tighten your stomach muscles. Stretch your hands out in front of you, curl your upper body forward until your shoulders clear the floor. Hold for 3 seconds and remember to keep breathing. Relax to the floor and repeat up to 10 times.
  • Diagonal curl – once partial curl is perfected, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Stretch arms out in front of you, draw your abdomen in and lift your head and shoulders off the floor while rotating your trunk toward the right. Hold a few seconds and return to the starting position. Do the same exercise only rotating toward your left side. Try this exercise up to 15 times on each side.
  • Side plank – Lie on your side with your legs, hips, and shoulders in a straight line. Prop yourself up onto your forearm with your elbow under your shoulder. Lift your hips off the floor and balance on your forearm and the outside of your foot. Hold for up to 15 seconds and then slowly lower your hip to the ground. Switch sides and repeat.
  • Yoga cobra pose – Lie on your stomach with hands placed below the shoulders. Keep your elbows close to the sides. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, very slowly push yourself up with your hands so that your shoulders are off the ground but your hips and legs are still grounded on the floor. Hold the stretch for about 15 seconds, return to the starting position and repeat a few times.
  • Alternating leg raise – Lie on your back on the floor with legs raised and bent. Try to contract your abdominal muscles and gently press the lower back into the floor. While maintaining this position, straighten the right leg slowly and bring it down to the floor again to the starting position. Repeat the exercise with the other leg. Do this about 5 times.

Pulled abdominal muscle or hernia: Know the difference

It is easy to assume that all you have is a pulled abdominal muscle when something else is actually going on. Conversely, some people assume they have a hernia when in fact it is a muscle strain or tear. So, how can you tell if you have a pulled abdominal muscle or hernia? While a qualified doctor should really be giving the diagnosis, here are some points to keep in mind when trying to distinguish the two.

When someone experiences a pulled abdominal muscle, it is true that there can be inflammation and swelling, but generally there are no noticeable changes in the appearance of the abdomen; however, a hernia is known to cause a noticeable bulge on the surface of the abdomen. This bulge is usually without any signs of bruising or swelling. Sometimes these bulges appear small in the beginning but over time they can increase in size and become obvious.

We have already established that a pulled abdominal muscle can cause mild pain or sudden sharp pain. We know that symptoms can be aggravated by coughing, laughing, and sneezing. We can also tell you that the pain is localized, which means it is in the specific site of the muscle injury and can be tender when pressed on. Hernias on the other hand, don’t usually cause pain initially. As they grow they can cause mild pain that many people describe as achiness or heaviness. The bulge we just told you about doesn’t cause tenderness unless abdominal contents have become trapped in the hernia. If this happens, you need to seek immediate medical help.


One of the biggest distinguishing factors for pulled abdominal muscle vs. hernia is the location. While abdominal muscle strains and tears can happen in various locations and can include any of the abdominal wall muscles, abdominal hernias normally occur at specific sites. About 75 percent of hernias are in the groin. The belly button and sites of previous surgical incisions or abdominal wounds are other common sites.

A pulled abdominal muscle can be terribly uncomfortable and inconvenient. Most of us have experienced a strained muscle at some point that has slowed us down. Taking precautions such as stretching before rigorous activity, bending properly when lifting, as well as maintaining a regular exercise routine can all go a long way in helping you avoid a pulled abdominal muscle.

Related: Top 12 natural muscle relaxers to fix aches and pains



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