The oblique muscles refer to one of the groups of muscles that make up the muscles of the abdomen. You may regard them as the waist muscles. Oblique muscle strain along with strain of the other abdominal muscles is quite common in athletes and active individuals as they keep these muscles continuously engaged. Athletes tend to keep the oblique muscles engaged so as to strengthen the core and enhance performance when using the full body to execute varied skills.
The oblique muscles are categorized into external and internal oblique muscles. The lower part these muscles attach to the hip bone while the top section is connected to the ribs. The external obliques are bigger and present just below the skin and subcutaneous fat on the uppermost surface of the abdomen.The internal oblique muscles occur deeper and under the external muscles on both sides of the torso.
The oblique muscles are very important as they help twist the torso and bend sideways. They also play a role in the breathing process. Hence, people who experience a case of pulled or strained oblique muscles should consult a doctor for diagnosis, alleviation of symptoms, and treatment of the condition. Untreated instances can lead to worsening of the strain or it may become recurrent and/or chronic.
Symptoms of pulled or strained oblique muscles
People tend to experience stiffness and pain when affected by a pulled oblique muscle. Some of the common signs and symptoms accompanying an oblique muscle strain are listed below:
- The pain may occur gradually or immediately after pulling the muscle. It may persist even when resting. Pain associated with mild strains of the oblique muscles usually tends to worsen only when affected people engage in physical activities or exercising.
- Pain caused by the strain is generally sharp and stinging. It occurs along the sides of the abdomen and the lower chest, especially when the trunk is twisted for bent forcefully. Development of microscopic tears in the muscles is what causes the pain as well as increases its severity levels.
- An oblique muscle pull or strain often causes stiffness. The stiff muscles are more evident in the morning after waking up. Sometimes, the muscles may be so stiff as to limit or prevent you from doing the daily chores.
- People with severe oblique muscle strain or pull may experience weakness, bruising, or swelling or inflammation of the muscles on the side of the abdomen. Sometimes, the sides may elicit extreme tenderness, or the pain in the chest or abdomen may increase significantly when breathing deeply, coughing, or laughing.
Causes of oblique muscle strain or pull
There are many causes for the occurrence of oblique muscles strain, but it is often caused due to performance of certain activities that engage these muscles. It must be remembered that the oblique muscles attach to the abdominal fascia, lower back, ribs, and upper part of the hip bone. Hence, overuse of all these areas can trigger the muscle pull.
Some of the physical activities that can cause oblique muscle pull and pain include rowing, forceful bowling in cricket, prolonged coughing, lifting heavy items lying on the floor, raking soil, presence of a slouched posture, lifting using a shovel or a pitchfork, sitting for an extensive amount of time, surgically induced scars on the abdomen, and exercises that involve twisting and bending.
Oblique muscle strain and pain may also occur due to sudden or forceful twisting or bending, or overuse of the abdominal muscles, or direct trauma or injury to the abdomen.
Treatment of oblique muscle strain or pull
Full recovery from a pulled oblique muscle will occur in around 6 weeks. It is important to begin treatment at the earliest due to the prolonged recovery time and because these muscles get used for carrying out almost all activities.
Treatment of an oblique muscle strain involves the following:
- Rest, Ice, Compression/RIC: The RIC method should be tried immediate after an oblique muscle pull or strain. It will help reduce muscle tissue damage and internal bleeding.
- Rest is instrumental for full recovery. Avoid sports and all other activities that may worsen the strain and pain as it hampers the healing process.
- Ice the affected area to restrict the blood supply to the area, thereby helping alleviate the pain and inflammation. Do not apply ice directly on the skin as it can damage it. Use crushed ice on the affected areas for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat the process after an hour or more.
- Wrap an elastic bandage around the abdominal muscles. Such compression bandages are specially designed for oblique muscle strains; they support and protect the area during the healing process.
- Painkillers: OTC pain medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can help find relief from pain and swelling. Doctors may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs for severe pain.
- Massages: After the acute phase is over, patients may go for deep tissue sports massages to promote the healing process. Application of a cross friction massage at the spot where the oblique muscle tendon connect to the bone will help rearrange the new collagen tissue as well as prevent occurrence of the sticky parts in the healing tendon. Other kinds of massages will facilitate relaxation of tight muscles and enhance the blood flow.
- Application of heat: Do not go for heat application on the affected areas for at least 72 hours since an oblique muscle pull or strain as it can slow down the healing process. Warm compresses may be used after 3 days to facilitate the flow of nutrients and oxygen-rich blood. Application of heat directly on the skin should be avoided as it can result in skin burns. The best method is to wrap a towel or a blanket around a hot water bottle or a heating pad and then apply the compress for 15 to 20 minutes on the affected areas. Wait for at least 60 minutes before you use the warm compress once again.
- Exercises: Certain exercises can help the healing process. However, consult a doctor before you opt for exercises like plank, stretch, side plank, and upward-facing dog, etc. to treat an oblique muscle strain.
Filed in: Body Pain