What are oblique muscles?

An oblique strain is a specific injury that affects your abdominal muscles. An oblique strain may heal within a few weeks to six weeks.
An oblique strain is a specific injury that affects your abdominal muscles. An oblique strain may heal within a few weeks to six weeks.

An oblique strain is a specific injury that affects your abdominal muscles. Pushing these muscles past their limits can result in a mild or serious strain. What is an oblique muscle? Knowing how it works can help you understand what causes oblique strains, how to care for yourself after one, and how to prevent similar future injuries. 

Your abdominal muscles are between your ribs and pelvis on the front side of your body. This group of muscles supports the bulk of your body, allowing you to move while maintaining correct internal pressure to keep your organs in place.

Abdominals are split into four different groups. Two of these groups make up your oblique muscles:

  1. Your external oblique muscles are on either side of your body. External oblique muscles let you twist your body as the opposite muscle contracts. For example, you turn your body to the right by contracting your left external oblique muscle.
  2. Your internal oblique muscles are on the inside of your hip bones. They work together with the external oblique muscles but function in the opposite way. When you twist your body to the right, your right internal oblique is engaged.

What is an oblique strain?

An oblique strain happens when you stretch or tear one of these muscles in your core, also called a pulled muscle. Oblique strains can occur on the left or right side of your body.

Causes of an oblique strain

Usually, an oblique strain is caused by overuse. When you do the same movement repeatedly, like in sports or other exercises, you’re at risk of muscle strains. Other possible causes of an oblique strain include:

  • Accidents like car wrecks or falls
  • Chronic sneezing or coughing
  • Excessive or intense exercise
  • Lifting something heavy
  • Bad form while exercising or playing sports
  • Sudden movements involving your core, like twisting

Anyone is at risk of pulling an abdominal muscle, but if you often take part in certain activities, you’re more likely to injure yourself. Football, tennis, and any activities that involve reaching or side-to-side movements usually cause this kind of muscle strain.

Symptoms of an oblique strain

When you have an oblique strain, the main symptoms will be abdominal pain and muscle pain on your sides. You might notice that coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, or moving around after being inactive for a long time triggers oblique pain. In addition to pain, you may experience:

Diagnosing an oblique strain

If you think you have an oblique strain, visit your healthcare provider. You can see your general provider, a specialist in sports medicine, a physiotherapist, an exercise physiologist, or any combination of these.

Be prepared to answer questions about your symptoms, medical history, and regular activities. They’ll take a close look at your stomach area and ask you to do specific movements, like a sit-up, to see if it’s painful.

If your pulled muscle seems serious, your healthcare provider may order an X-ray to make sure you don’t have an injured rib cage, fractured spine, or broken bones.

Treating an oblique strain

With time and rest, your abdominal muscle strain will get better. You can do things to help your injury heal, including:

  • Learn stretches and strengthening exercises from a physical therapist.
  • Wear an abdominal brace around your core to take pressure off your obliques and reduce swelling.
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help with pain and swelling. Remember that ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin could cause internal bleeding and other issues.
  • Take acetaminophen as directed on the bottle or by your healthcare provider. Beware that this can cause liver damage and other issues.
  • Consistently apply ice packs, packages of frozen vegetables, or cold compresses. Do this every few hours for 20 minutes each time.
  • Use a damp heat source on the injury for 10 or 15 minutes before you do strengthening exercises and stretches. Dry heat patches, moist heating pads, wet washcloths, or hot showers are great ways to apply heat to your oblique strain.

If you have a mild strain, you should be fully functional after a few weeks. If you have a serious strain, it could take more than six weeks to heal completely.

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Oblique strains and hernias

When one of your organs finds a weak spot in a muscle and pushes through, you have a hernia. Common areas for hernias include your groin and the space between your upper thigh and abdomen. If you strain your obliques, your chances of getting a hernia are increased.

Both of these conditions result in abdominal pain. However, hernias may cause different symptoms than a muscle strain:

If you have a hernia, you will need to visit your healthcare provider for treatment. If you have an oblique strain, you may get better by resting.

Preventing oblique strains

To prevent oblique strains, always warm up properly and stretch for an appropriate amount of time before activities that could strain your obliques. When your muscles are strong and flexible, they’re less likely to strain. When starting a new exercise, be careful and don’t push yourself too hard. If you have to lift something heavy, bend at the knees and hips while keeping your back straight.

Regularly doing exercises like Pilates or yoga is a great way to keep your abdominal muscles loose and stretched out. Exercise routines that target your core will keep your obliques strong. Don’t forget cool-down exercises after you’re done.

Recovery from oblique strains

If you have an oblique strain, you should be back to your normal activities before long. The best thing you can do is rest, stretch often, and slowly build your oblique strength back up! Don’t push yourself to recover too quickly. If you feel that your healing is prolonged and you have trouble walking, intense pain that makes it hard to sleep or follow your routine, or hernia symptoms, get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/6/2022
References
Sources:

Better Health Channel: "Abdominal muscles."

Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Muscle Strain."

Tufts Medical Center: "Abdominal Muscle Strain: Teen Version."