The abdominal muscles stretch over the abdomen from the chest to the hips, covering the center and sides also. Some people call this area the stomach muscle, but the stomach is actually a different organ.
Doctors also refer to a pulled muscle as a strain or tear. This type of injury can happen through overuse, by stretching a muscle too much, or through excessive force.
A pulled muscle may feel sore or painful and restrict movement. As the abdominal muscles are hard to support externally, treatment involves rest and pain medication.
In this article, learn more about the causes and symptoms of a pulled abdominal muscle. Also, find out how to tell it apart from other injuries in the same area.
People can pull an abdominal muscle by:
- exercising the abdomen excessively
- not warming up properly before exercise or strenuous activity
- using incorrect technique during exercise
- incorrect lifting of heavy objects
- suddenly twisting the body from the core
- violently sneezing or coughing
Tight or tired abdominal muscles or a previous injury to the area can increase the risk of a pulled abdominal muscle.
A pulled abdominal muscle can make the abdomen feel sore and tender, especially during movement.
If people have pulled a muscle, they may notice the following symptoms in and around the abdomen:
- soreness or tenderness
- pain or discomfort when touching the abdomen
- muscle spasms
- difficulty stretching the muscle
- pain when moving or stretching
- pain after an injury or excessive exercise
Doctors sometimes call a pulled abdominal muscle a "strain" or a torn muscle. A pulled muscle can vary in severity:
- A mild strain causes the muscle fibers to stretch or tear, but strength is not affected.
- A medium strain has more torn fibers, there may be swelling or bruising, and there is a noticeable weakness.
- A more severe strain can cause a complete rip in the muscle and will be very painful. It also leads to a loss of muscle strength.
A pulled abdominal muscle can sometimes feel similar to a hernia.
A hernia is a bulge in the section of the abdomen when tissue, fat, or a part of the small intestines, expands through a weakened part of the abdomen.
There are different types of hernias. One of the most common types is an inguinal hernia, which affects mostly males.
The main sign of a hernia is a bulge in the abdomen, above the groin, which may not be visible when a person is lying down. Hernias can appear suddenly or form gradually.
Other symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- pain in the groin area, especially when lifting or exercising
- a burning sensation in the groin
- a swollen scrotum in males
- a weak or heavy feeling in the groin
People may get a hernia from:
- being overweight or obese
- a chronic cough
- straining from severe constipation
- heavy lifting
Other types of hernia include:
- Incisional hernias, which can occur after abdominal surgery.
- Umbilical hernias, which cause a bulge in or near the belly button.
- Incarcerated hernias, which occur when part of the intestine or abdominal tissue is trapped in the bulge of soft tissue pushing through the abdominal wall.
An incarcerated hernia can become strangulated, which cuts off the blood flow to the tissue that is trapped. A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency.
If a person is unsure about whether they have a hernia or a pulled muscle, it is best to see a doctor to avoid serious complications.
People may be able to treat a pulled muscle at home with plenty of rest and by avoiding strenuous exercise or exertion.
If people are experiencing a lot of pain, or their symptoms are not getting better, it is best to see a doctor.
People should visit their doctor if they think they might have a hernia. A doctor can often diagnose this condition during a physical examination.
Strangulated hernias can be life threatening. If people notice the following symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention or call 911:
- sudden, lasting pain in the abdomen
- worsening pain
- a red and very tender bulge in the groin
The main treatment for a pulled abdominal muscle is resting the muscle to allow it to recover. People will need to avoid any activities that add extra strain to the muscle or cause pain.
If a person feels like they have pulled their abdominal muscle during physical activity, they should stop the exercise straight away and follow these steps:
- wrap an ice pack in a towel or cloth
- apply the pack to the abdomen for 20 minutes
- repeat 2–3 times each day
A healthcare professional may advise doing specific stretches to help the muscle recover. People can also take over the counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, to help relieve pain and swelling.
If there is no swelling, people can use heat to relax the pulled muscle. Apply a warm compress to the muscle for 10–15 minutes at a time. This can help relax the muscle, and allow it to heal.
Treatment for a hernia usually involves a doctor manipulating the hernia back into the correct position. Some people may require surgery, however.
The speed of recovery from a pulled muscle will depend on its severity. A mildly pulled muscle can heal in a few weeks, while a more serious pulled muscle can take 4 to 6 weeks to heal.
A pulled stomach muscle — which is technically a pulled abdominal muscle — can be painful, but people will usually make a full recovery with plenty of rest. A person should take care to avoid strenuous activity or exercise during their recovery period.
People may be able to prevent pulling a stomach muscle by:
- warming up properly before exercise or strenuous activity
- lifting correctly and not lifting objects that are too heavy
- following proper technique for exercises
- strengthening and improving the flexibility of the abdominal muscles
If people are experiencing any severe or prolonged symptoms, they should see a doctor.
Anyone who notices any unusual bulge in the abdominal area should see a doctor, as it may be a hernia. If they experience extreme tenderness or have nausea and a fever, they should seek immediate medical attention.