The Runner’s Guide To Treating & Preventing Abdominal Muscle Strains


Whether you’ve pulled an abdominal muscle while sprinting or in the gym deadlifting, abdominal strains are no joke.

Here’s the truth. Abdominal muscle strains can make doing even the most routine things highly uncomfortable. In fact, any sort of movement can result in pain—running is no exception.

That’s why it’s extremely important to take the proper measures in order to manage this injury, especially if you’re serious about training injury-free for the long haul.

In this article, I’ll explain what abdominal strains are all about, how they’re treated, and, most importantly, how to prevent the condition in the future.

What Are The Abdominal Muscles?

First things first, what do I mean by the abdominal muscles?

Simple. These are the muscles that make up the core of your body, stretching over your abdomen from the chest to the hips. Abdominal muscles help with movement, assist with breathing, and offer supports to the spine.

When these muscles are underperforming and/or weak, they can cause back pain, bad posture, and a host of other troubles.

All in all, your abdominals are made up of four main muscles. These include:

  • The internal and external obliques—these help you twist and side-bend your trunk right and left.
  • The rectus abdominus—what’s often referred to as the six-pack, which helps you bend forward. They help movement between the pelvis and ribcage.
  • The transverse abdominis—consisting of deep that muscle that helps stabilize your trunk and protect organs. It also helps your sneeze, cough, and exhale.

What Is An Abdominal Strain?

Stomach pain could mean different things and could be blamed on different injuries and conditions.

One of the most common culprits is what’s known as abdominal strain, which is an overstretch, tear, or rupture of one (or more) of the abdominal muscles.

In essence, strains consist of injury to a muscle. They can vary in severity from a mild stretch to a complete rupture.

When it comes to abdominal muscles, any one of the muscles can be damaged, causing extreme pain with any trunk movement as well as laughing, coughing, sneezing, or even deep breathing.

The condition often occurs during intense or excessive training. But you can also strain an abdominal muscle while working in the yard or whenever lifting a heavy object (especially with bad form).


When you strain one of your abdominal muscles, you’ll experience discomfort and/or pain during laughing, coughing, and sneezing. You might also notice swelling, bruised skin, and stiffness in the affected area, especially after sitting for a while.

What’s more?

Pain is also felt during any form of trunk movement, especially when running, lifting weights, bending down, etc.

Grades of Severity

Abdominal muscle strains are classified according to the severity of the injury.

Here’s the general breakdown.

First degree

The first degree consists of mild stretching of an abdominal muscle. Only a few fibers are torn or damaged. The affected muscle might be painful or tender, but there’s no loss of muscle strength.

This can cause mild swelling, localized pain as well as discomfort with movement such as deep breathing, coughing, sneezing, or even laughing.

Second Degree

The second degree consists of a partial tear with more fiber damage and more pain

This is also coupled with marked muscle weakness as well as swelling. Bruising could also be present on the affected site. You might experience sudden pain, localized swelling, marked tenderness, or discoloration.

As a runner, this injury might be debilitating, depending on the number of fibers torn.

Third Degree

The most severe of all muscle strains and manifest as a full muscle rupture either at the muscle origin, its insertion, or midsection.

This can cause a full rip in the muscle and will be extremely painful. This severe injury results in total loss of muscle strength, serious bruising, and pain. You might also notice a popping sound as the muscle breaks in two.

Can you actually run with An abdominal Strain?

It really depends on the severity of the injury.

Feel free to keep training like usual if it’s grade I. as for grade II, consider avoiding any form of speed work since the faster you run, the more you engage your abdominal muscles. This, in turn, may worsen your symptoms or even delay healing.

As for grade III, most doctors would recommend avoiding any form of intense training until you’ve restored some function and strength in the affected muscle. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.

How To treat Abdominal strains

Just like it’s the case with most muscle injuries, your first step should be the RICE method.

Do the following:


This may seem redundant, but it’s commonly ignored by serious runners thirsting to get back in the game.

When you don’t give your body enough time to heal, you’ll only make it worse, setting your back even further.

As I mentioned earlier, you’re still using your abdominal muscles while logging the miles. This makes it challenging to rest the injured muscle.

Take time off the running track, especially if you feel discomfort and pain during running


Cold therapy will help soothe some of the pain and tenderness you might be experiencing. In fact, the sooner you apply the cold on the affected site, the sooner you can limit any interval bleeding, which, in turn, speeds recovery.

As a rule apply, ice for 10 to 15 minutes every couple of hours for the first 48 hours when the injury is in the acute stage.


Consider wearing an abdominal bandage or binder to help compress your abdominals. The applied pressure may help soothe pain and minimize movement—keys for a faster recovery.

Just remember to consult your doctor about how tight and long you should use the compress to soothe your symptoms. Most doctors would recommend a binder made of hypoallergenic fabrics to prevent any allergic reaction.

Try Drugs

Still in pain? Consider taking over-the-counter drugs to help ease the pain and limit inflammation. I’d recommend ibuprofen.

How To prevent Abdominal Strains

The best way to manage an abdominal strain is not to get one in the first place.

Take the following measures to reduce your risk of injury.


A common culprit behind muscle strains is performed sudden and fast movement. Fortunately, properly warming up can help prepare the muscles for intense activity, which cuts injury risk.


To protect your abdominal muscles from tearing in the future, work on making them stronger. It goes without saying, but stronger muscles are less prone to tears and injury.

You can prevent abdominal muscle strains by increasing the strength of your core muscles.

Some of the best exercises include the plank, side plank, weighted crunches, bird dog, ball lift, and boat.

Build Better Technique

Another common cause of abdominal muscle strains is performing the movement with bad form.

Whether you’re training for your first 5K, sprinting, lifting weights in the gym, or doing some work in your garden, proper technique is key.

Lifting a heavy weight? Embrace your core, bend at your knees, and lift with your legs, keeping the weight close to your body the entire time.

You should also avoid sitting for a prolonged time as this puts extra stress on your abdominal muscles, which can set the stage for injury.

Understand Your Body

Abdominal strains happen because you overworked one of your abdominal muscles. That’s why it’s key to know when to stop or when to keep going.

If you’re a beginner runner, start slowly and easily into more intense exercise. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew—or else, you’re setting yourself up for injury.

Consult your doctor if you’re in constant pain. They’ll give you a full assessment and more than like an ultrasound. This should be enough to rule out whether it’s a simple tear or if there’s a hernia present.

Your doctor’s advice about running with an abdominal strain will depend on the nature, location, and severity of the tear, as well as your overall fitness and health.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest toping training altogether or swapping your current plan for a new one, or modifying your current routine.

***This is a guest post written by David Dack***

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