Pain in the abdominal muscles
Abdominal muscle pain, Abdominal muscle tear

Abdominal pain can have many causes. In this article we will focus primarily on pain from the abdominal muscles.

abdomen oblique abdomen muscle straight abdomen muscle

The abdominal wall is formed by the skin, muscles, fascia, fatty tissue and the peritoneum that lines the front and sides of the abdomen. Any of these structures can be affected when we have abdominal pain. The organs located in the abdomen can be a further possible source of abdominal pain.

Description of condition

Pain that becomes worse when the abdominal muscles are tensed usually indicates a problem with the abdominal wall. Sometimes a portion of the peritoneum (the membrane which lines the abdominal cavity) will protrude through a weak spot or opening in the abdominal wall. This is called an abdominal hernia. Damage to the nerves in the abdomen can also cause abdominal pain. In athletes, the pain is often caused by the muscles.

The muscle pain is often caused by the rectus abdominis muscles (abdominals or abs) whose job is to allow the trunk to bend. They are located in the area around the navel. If the oblique abdominal muscles are damaged, the pain is located more to the side of the abdomen. The oblique abdominal muscles assist in twisting movements of the upper body.

Cause and history

Spraining, tearing or overloading the abdominal muscles can have various causes. Often the muscle pain will occur after exercising the abdominal muscles, for example after performing sit-ups. Sudden twisting movements of the body can also cause prolonged abdominal pain. When somebody slips and loses their balance, the abdominal muscles contract as a reflex action. Excessive force can damage the muscle.

Signs & symptoms

  • Pain when contracting the abdominal muscles.
  • Pain when lifting outstretched legs while lying on your back.
  • Lifting your head and shoulders while lying on your back is painful.
  • Laughing and coughing may make the pain worse.

Generally, there is no nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, altered bowel movements or pain relating to what was eaten. If any of the above symptoms do occur, this pain could originate in the abdominal cavity instead of the abdominal wall. There may be a problem with the intestines or other internal organs.



Muscle pain after strength training for the abdominal muscles usually disappears within a few days. If the pain persists, or if there is any doubt about the cause of the symptoms, then it is wise to consult a doctor or physiotherapist.


You can check your symptoms using the online physiotherapy check or make an appointment with a physiotherapy practice in your locality.

abdomen oblique abdomen muscle straight abdomen muscle anatomy

Brukner, P. & Khan, K. (2016). Clinical sports medicine (Nederlandse bewerking). 4th edition. Michel van Troost. PreVision, Eindhoven.
Suleiman, S. & Johnston, D.E. (2001). The abdominal wall: An overlooked source of pain. Am Fam Physician. 64(3):431-8.

abdomen oblique abdomen muscle straight abdomen muscle
abdomen oblique abdomen muscle straight abdomen muscle anatomy

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