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The muscles on the sides and front of the abdomen are normally very stable and resistant to injury, though strains can occur when too much torsion or pressure is placed on them. Most abdominal muscle strains are minor injuries that do not require medical treatment. Instead, people can usually recover by taking a break from physical activity, icing their muscles, and taking over-the-counter painkillers. An especially painful or bothersome strained abdominal muscle should be evaluated by a doctor to gauge the severity of the injury and learn about treatment options. A doctor can prescribe medications, discuss physical therapy techniques, and possibly suggest surgery to prevent further damage.
Rest typically is key in treating any type of abdominal muscle strain. Unlike a shoulder or knee injury, however, it is nearly impossible to completely immobilize the abdomen to give it time to heal. The muscles move constantly when sitting, bending, and even breathing. Doctors generally encourage people to find comfortable positions either sitting or lying down and maintain them as much as possible. Supportive tapes and elastic wraps are available at most pharmacies to help prevent excessive movements.
A person can also alternate between applying heat wraps and ice packs to relieve symptoms. Icing an abdominal muscle strain up to five times a day can help reduce inflammation and any swelling that might be present. Specialized heat wraps or warm, moist cloths can loosen up sore muscles and relieve tenderness. An individual can take regular doses of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to further improve symptoms during the healing phase. In most cases, a minor abdominal muscle strain that is cared for properly starts feeling better in less than two weeks.
An abdominal muscle strain that causes serious pain or persists despite home care should be brought to the attention of a doctor. A physician can perform a thorough physical exam and order ultrasounds to check for tears or hernias. If no major damage is found, the patient may be prescribed painkillers or given a corticosteroid injection directly into the muscle to immediately relieve pain. The doctor can explain the importance of rest and provide a time frame as to when the patient can ease back into physical activity.
Surgery is rarely necessary for an abdominal muscle strain, though a procedure may be necessary if a large tear occurs. Rest alone is sufficient to recover from minor partial tears, though a muscle that is entirely pulled apart cannot heal on its own. A surgeon can perform a minimally-invasive procedure to reattach muscle fibers to each other and to surrounding tissue in the abdomen. With follow-up physical therapy sessions, most people are able to recover in two to six months.