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What to Know About an Oblique Muscle Strain

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 09, 2021

An oblique muscle strain refers to a tear in the muscles that extend from your ribs to the pelvis, covering your waist. The oblique muscles consist of two types: external and internal. A strain can occur in any of your oblique muscles.

You will feel a sudden sharp pain near your rib cage or abdomen (belly) following the onset of oblique muscle strain.

This condition is rare, though, and is primarily observed in athletes. It can be treated within weeks with comprehensive physical therapy sessions.

What Is an Oblique Muscle Strain?

The external and internal oblique muscles function together to let you rotate and bend your torso easily. The external oblique muscles cover the larger part of your waist and lie close to the skin surface. The internal oblique muscles are located near the abdomen. 

Both of these muscles support the internal organs and spine muscles. This will also keep your vital organs in their correct position to protect them from any injury. 

Oblique muscles also help you stand up straight. 

A tear, injury, or trauma to any of these muscles can cause a strain. The oblique abdominal muscle strain is an injury to the oblique muscles, which is also known as a side strain. 

A side strain is seen in athletes and can be treated with physical therapy.

What Causes an Oblique Muscle Strain?

An oblique muscle strain is most likely caused when your torso—the part of your body (trunk) excluding head and limbs—gets twisted or rotated badly. 

Other oblique muscle strain causes include:

  • Too much use of the muscle
  • Intense workouts
  • Repeated sit-ups 
  • Lifting heavy objects that stress the muscles
  • Lifting objects in the incorrect position repeatedly
  • A direct hit or trauma to the abdomen
  • Hyperextension of the spine

Sports that may cause oblique muscle strains include:

  • Cricket
  • Javelin throwing
  • Hockey
  • Rowing
  • Golf
  • Swimming
  • Bowling
  • Baseball
  • Tennis

What Are the Symptoms of an Oblique Muscle Strain?

Some common oblique muscle strain symptoms include:

  • A sudden, intense pain near the ribs
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Stiffness, especially after waking up from sleep
  • Severe aching in the trunk
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Soreness or swelling
  • Bruising 

These symptoms can worsen if you try to take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze.

How Is an Oblique Muscle Strain Diagnosed?

See a doctor if you feel sudden pain in your abdominal area. Your doctor might order tests to rule out other conditions, such as a hernia—a condition when an internal organ pushes through the wall of a muscle or tissue. 

Tests might include: 

  • Ultrasound. An ultrasound detects a side strain easily.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan is usually done to identify rib injuries, such as severe strains, fractures, and abdominal problems.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI scan takes clear images of the inside of your body and detects oblique muscle strain. 

What Is the Treatment for an Oblique Muscle Strain?

The most effective oblique muscle strain treatment is physical therapy. ‌It will reduce inflammation and help you regain flexibility in your abdominal muscles. ‌

‌A physical therapist will develop a detailed plan for you, including exercises, preventive measures, and a proper diet.

One of the best oblique muscle treatments is the P.R.I.C.E principle, which consists of:

  • Protection. Avoid any physical activity that puts stress on your trunk.
  • Rest. Limit stretching for days and rest till the pain lowers.
  • Icing.Use an ice pack on the strained area for about 20 minutes every one to two hours in the first three days following the injury.
  • Compression. Wear a large bandage around the oblique muscles to soothe swelling and inflammation.
  • Elevation. Mild strains will probably heal in about four weeks, with two visits to the physical therapist each week. Severe strains may take a longer time and more visits to the therapist during the recovery period.

‌Currently, these are the only interventions for oblique muscle strain. Future research will show if other methods, such as gene therapy, can be used for muscle injuries. 

It is advised to stay consistent with oblique muscle strain treatment. Even if the pain goes away after a few weeks, there is still a chance of re-injury. Give your muscles an ample amount of time to start stretching and lifting heavy objects again.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

‌American Journal of Roentgenology: "Side Strain: A Tear of Internal Oblique Musculature."

‌Better Health Channel: "Abdominal Muscles."

‌Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Muscles."

‌Current Sports Medicine Reports: "Internal Oblique Muscle Strain on the Side of the Dominant Arm in a Representative Handball Player."

International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "ACUTE TEARING OF THE OBLIQUE ABDOMINAL WALL INSERTION ONTO THE ILIAC CREST IN AN AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL PLAYER: A CASE REPORT."

Muscle Injuries in Sports Medicine: "Diagnostic Imaging in Muscle Injury."

Elsevier: "MUSCLE INJURY – PHYSIOPATHOLOGY, DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT AND CLINICAL PRESENTATION."

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