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Can I Run with an Abdominal Strain?

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Ab strains can be painful and slow to heal. What should you do and how can you prevent them? Can I Run with an Abdominal Strain? www.runnerclick.com

Many don’t realize how much they use their abdominal muscles on a daily basis until they’ve suffered from an ab strain.

Then, getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, sitting and standing up, driving or simply coughing or sneezing can not only be very painful but also discouraging since little can be done medically to speed the healing of an ab strain.

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What qualifies as an ab strain?

An abdominal strain—sometimes called a pulled muscle—can be the tear, rupture or stretch, beyond the normal range, of any one of the muscles of the abdominal wall.

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The abdominal wall is comprised of four muscles—the transverse abdominis (the deep muscle that helps support your back), the rectus abdominis (the muscle sometimes described as “the six-pack,” which helps you bend forward) and the internal and external obliques (that allow you to twist and bend side to side).

Most abdominal muscle strains involve either the obliques or the rectus abdominis since they are closer to the surface.

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How might you get an ab strain?

Any kind of physical activity can make you susceptible to an ab strain but those things that require you to powerfully bend or twist your spine put you more at risk.

Sports like gymnastics, football, baseball, golf and tennis that require a lot of bending and/or twisting have a higher incidence of abdominal strains. Even heavy-duty home chores—like lifting heavy objects—can be the source of an ab strain.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal strain?

Pain, sometimes described as “stabbing,” tenderness, swelling, bruising, weakness, muscle spasms, cramping, and stiffness are all symptoms of an ab strain. Sometimes minor things like coughing or sneezing can be painful. The pain is more pronounced with movement such as bending forward or backward but an ab strain can make even the easiest movements—like sitting down—painful.

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How are ab strains diagnosed?

A mild strain can be treated at home but a more serious strain should prompt a visit to a medical professional. Because many important organs lie just below the stomach muscles, a tear in a muscle in the abdominal wall can become a more complicated situation. A hernia, in which part of the intestine protrudes through the muscle tear, can develop. Sometimes, hernias require surgery to repair.

Generally, an office visit is all that is needed to diagnose an abdominal muscle injury. The doctor can palpate the muscles and perform functional and range of motion tests to determine the severity and which muscle is injured. In addition, he/she will be able to tell if a hernia is present or you are at risk for developing one.

Abdominal strains are classified according to the severity. Mild pulls are categorized as grade 1. A strain with partially torn fibers causing moderate discomfort is classified as grade 2. A total tear of the muscle fibers causing a loss in the ability to function is categorized as grade 3 and often requires surgery to repair.

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How are abdominal strains treated?

Rest is the name of the game for abdominal tears. How much and how long depends on the severity of the tear.

Trying to power through an abdominal injury by continuing to train or work without the required rest may cause the strain to worsen or and may extend the recovery period.

For a mild strain, grade 1 strain, the recovery time is generally two to 10 days. A moderate strain, grade 2 strain, the recovery time is approximately two to six weeks. Severe strains, a grade 3 strain, the recovery time could be up to 10 weeks and may include surgery.

In the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury, applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day can help limit swelling. Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory creams and medication can help with the pain.

After the first 48 hours, heat can be applied to the injured area to relax the muscles and decrease tension, which can alleviate pain. Heat also will increase blood flow to the injured area, which can promote healing and lessen inflammation.

Your doctor may prescribe a steroid injection at the site of the injury or a course of physical therapy to help the recovery process and mitigate any abdominal muscle imbalances that may have led to the injury.

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But can I run with an ab strain?

Although running doesn’t require the same twisting motion as tennis or golf or the bending motions of football or baseball (pitching), running with an abdominal strain may be painful and increase the chances that the strain will worsen.

If there is the potential for developing a hernia, it is safest to rest as the doctor has ordered.

If your doctor has ordered a course of physical therapy, the therapist will be able to direct you as to which activities are recommended and which are off-limits.

You may be able to do some cross-training like stationary biking or aqua running to maintain your cardiovascular fitness and a certain amount of lower body strength while you recover.

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How to lower the chances for an ab strain

Although an acute strain or tear, as from a football or soccer tackle, can’t be prevented, there are some precautions you can take to limit your risk for developing an abdominal strain.

Strong and flexible abdominal muscles can help prevent an ab strain. If you don’t routinely do ab exercises, adding them to your fitness regimen is a good idea. Obviously, if you have suffered an ab strain, wait until it has healed and/or you are cleared by your doctor to start an ab routine.

If physical therapy was part of your recovery process, the therapist may have given you some ab exercises to do on your own.

Following are some exercises to incorporate into your workout a couple of times a week. Just as with other kinds of training, you shouldn’t do ab work every day; you want to give your muscles time to recover in between workouts.

  • Plank (up on your hands or down on your forearms)
  • Side plank (supported by your feet or your knees, make sure to do both sides)
  • Modified crunch (just lifting shoulders off the floor)
  • Bridge (on your back, feet on the floor, lifting your butt and thighs)

If you are just starting an ab program, begin slowly. You might want to start with two sets of each, holding for 10 seconds each. You can work your way up to three sets, holding each for 30 seconds.

Remember to focus on engaging all of your abdominal muscles during each exercise.

Your physical therapist, doctor, trainer or coach can provide you with additional exercise options. In addition, an online search can be a good source of ab workouts. You might try a web-based platform like fitnessblender.com where you can specify the difficulty level of the workout, starting at the lowest level and moving up gradually.



  1. Amy McGorry, Abdominal Strains, website
  2. Emily Cronkleton, Everything You Need to Know About Abdominal Strain, website
  3. Terry Zeigler, Abdominal Strain, website

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