Weight lifting, or even just lifting a heavy object using improper form, can cause an injury to the abdominal muscles that is known as an abdominal strain. This injury usually affects the front abdominal muscles, but can also cause pain in the muscles on the side of your abdomen, known as the oblique muscles. Football players and weight lifters are at the highest risk of this injury.
The first symptom of an abdominal strain is pain. You likely will find it very painful to do crunches or touch your toes, and you may experience muscle spasms in your abdomen. Severe abdominal strains also can cause swelling and bruising of the affected muscle.
If you think you may have strained your abdomen, the first line of treatment is icing the area, taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to decrease swelling, getting plenty of rest, and possibly stretching the area gently if this does not cause pain. If your pain persists, consult a physician to find out how you can better help your injury heal. In some cases, surgery is necessary to repair torn tissue, and steroid injections also are sometimes employed to facilitate healing.
It can take anywhere from weeks to months for an abdominal strain to completely heal; recovery time varies based on the severity of the injury along with your body’s response to treatments. Once you think your abdominal muscles have healed, use caution when returning to your training. First make sure you complete simple tasks such as doing crunches or touching your toes; this will provide a good indication of whether you have completely healed. Jumping back into training before the muscles have completely healed is dangerous; it can lead to another abdominal strain–perhaps one even more serious than the first one.
When you return to training, start slowly. Keep your core muscles–your abdominal and back muscles–strong by doing exercises such as crunches and working on an inflatable exercise ball. The stability that a strong core provides can help prevent future abdominal strains.