If you feel sudden, sharp pains near your rib cage, which worsen when you breathe, cough, or sneeze, it could be due to a strained oblique muscle.
Come along as we discuss all you need to know about oblique muscle strain.
Let’s get started!
Derived from the Latin word “obliquus,” meaning slanting orientation, these muscles are so named due to their presentation.
The obliques are located at the sides of your torso, between your ribs and hip bones. They help you twist and bend and rotate from side to side. Plus, they are crucial to standing straight.
The oblique muscle is made up of two separate muscles:
The external obliques and internal obliques. The external oblique muscles are on either side of your abdominal cavity and extend from the lower part of your ribs to the pelvis. In addition to other functions, they’re responsible for bringing your torso toward the midline of your body and also assist in increasing the pressure within the abdomen.
On the other hand, the internal oblique muscles are deeper in the abdominal wall, just lateral to your abdomen. They play a significant role in increasing intra-abdominal pressure when they contract.
Together, the oblique group of muscles supports the organs within the abdominal cavity, ensuring they remain in place. They also support the spine muscles. They will also keep your vital organs in their rightful position and assist in protecting them from injury.
Medically, a strain is the tearing of the muscle fibers (or tendons) caused by overstretching or tearing. The most common cause of strains is a sudden, large force that stretches a muscle beyond its normal range of motion.
Therefore, oblique strain refers to a strain affecting the oblique muscles. It is also referred to as a “Side strain.”
It often occurs when you’re playing sports or exercising, but it can also happen during everyday activities.
Furthermore, oblique muscle strain can happen in any age group, but it is more commonly seen in young people due to excessive physical activity. This injury occurs mainly in sports like javelin throw, swimming, hockey, baseball, cricket, rowing, golf, and martial arts, where players need to contort their bodies into specific positions (especially involving side-to-side movement) during play and are also required to move suddenly and quickly.
The sudden twisting motion of the torso, repetitive motions, or overuse most commonly causes oblique strain injuries. For example, your obliques may be strained from doing sit-ups or twisting movements like in yoga poses.
Other reasons for strain include:
- Trauma (e.g., a violent kick to the abdomen);
- Repetitive lifting motions or sudden movements while lifting heavy objects;
- A poor technique during sports activities such as badminton, tennis, and golf;
- Pushing yourself too hard when exercising – especially if you have weak abdominal muscles;
- Doing an activity that pushes your body beyond its normal range of motion; and,
- When the spine is hyperextended.
The following signs are suggestive of oblique strain:
- Sharp pain at the point of injury (pain over the area near the ribs);
- Swelling at point of injury;
- Pain during movement (movement such as breathing, coughing, and lifting objects causes discomfort);
- Stiffness, which is pronounced after waking in the morning;
- Pain increases when the affected person breaths, cough, or sneeze;
- Abdominal tenderness when touched;
- Burning sensation and discomfort in the urinary tract and bladder. It may lead to urinary incontinence in some individuals.
To diagnose an oblique muscle strain, your doctor will examine your abdomen. The physician would order imaging scans like those mentioned below to rule out other possible causes of pain, such as a hernia.
- MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging); and,
- CT (Computed tomography) Scan.
The doctor may also order additional blood tests to ensure no other problems that could cause your symptoms.
Your treatment will depend on the severity of your condition. A mild strain may only require rest, while a severe strain may require surgery. If a strain is not treated correctly, it can lead to more severe problems later in life.
The treatment options in the management of oblique muscle strain include:
Resting: Resting from aggravating activities is essential for any muscle strain because it allows the muscles to heal properly. If possible, avoid any activity that could further injure your oblique muscles until you’ve been evaluated by a professional who can advise on safe exercises to do during rehabilitation.
Ice Compress: Apply an ice pack or ice massage over the injured area. The cold temperature helps constrict your blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation and pain. Make sure to apply ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time, as a prolonged application can cause frostbite. Also, you should avoid putting ice directly on your skin, as this can cause damage to the tissue. Instead, use a cloth or towel between your skin and the bag of ice.
Compression: Compression bandages are applied over the injured area to help ease swelling and inflammation.
Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can be helpful in both treating oblique muscle strains and preventing further injuries. Your physical therapist will use many techniques during therapy sessions, including massage, stretching, and strengthening exercises, depending on what works best for you.
Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to repair injured oblique muscles after an acute injury or with chronic injuries that don’t respond well to conservative treatment options.
As with any medical condition, do well to see a professional as soon as possible.