What Does a Pulled Lower Abdominal Muscle Feel Like? Symptoms of a Strain vs. Tear or Hernia

Physical Therapy | Written by Jon Chambers | Updated on 7 April 2022

what a pulled lower abdominal muscle feels like shown in red on diagram displaying muscles of abdomen and groin

Having an odd pain on your lower abdominal muscles is worrying, but it’s also a feeling like no other.

A torn stomach muscle (tear), or pulled lower abdomen (strain) is no joke – and knowing what it feels like is important in order get appropriate treatment ASAP.

What Does a Pulled Lower Abdominal Muscle Feel Like?

For starters, it will feel stiff but still flexible enough for you to move around if you have a simple sprain. It will also be tender, but not excruciating when you apply pressure to the area. You may also experience muscle spasms or cramps that extend to your groin and stomach as well. It is possible that you may have external oblique pain felt on either side of your torso as well.

On the flip side, if your lower abdomen is seriously torn, it will result in serious pain and dysfunctional, limited movement. In the case of the lower abs specifically, it will be hard to go about even simple daily tasks—and activities such as general exercising, running, lifting weights, or playing sports will be completely out of the question.

Knowing the specific symptoms of what a pulled lower abdominal muscle feels like will help you to make sure you have a strain and not a more serious tear or possible sports hernia.

Pulled Lower Abdominal Muscle Strain Symptoms

  • Pain in your abdomen that increases with activity
  • Stiffness and lack of flexibility
  • Spasms and muscle cramps that can happen either in the abdomen directly or in surrounding muscles
  • A feeling of weakness in the area and a need to brace when opening doors, standing up, or moving about in bed
  • Visible bruising in the area
  • It may also feel as if you have pulled a muscle in your stomach

Walking may present pain and you may have a tendency to walk hunched over to avoid standing up straight and stretching the abdominals.

As soon as the injury happens, you should apply ice and wear an abdominal binder to ensure compression stops further damaging swelling and limits movement so that healing can occur.

Additionally, rest and proper nutrition are extremely important during the initial phases of recovery.

Exact recovery times will vary from individual to individual, but most will require 3-6 weeks before gradually re-introducing pre-injury activities.

To avoid re-injury or doing further damage, fixing the cause of the problem (explained below) is highly recommended, especially in the case of athletes or highly active individuals who are looking to rehab and get back on the field or in the weight room as soon as possible.

How to Tell Between an Abdominal Strain and a Tear or Sports Hernia

If your pain is only moderate and your symptoms get better with rest and ice, it is likely that you only have a strain that will heal with inactivity and proper rehabilitation.

However, if your pain is severe and your movement is extremely limited, you may have a tear or complete rupture of the abdominal wall. If this is the case, surgical intervention will be required to suture the damaged area. In the case of a serious tear, recovery times will be longer and may extend up to four or five months. Consistently performing proper rehabilitation will greatly reduce this time.

If you also experience pain in your groin and pubic area, you may not have a tear of the abdominal wall but a sports hernia instead. In this case, the inner abdominal wall becomes torn. Do not be fooled—when this happens there will be no visible bulge. It is much more common when pain in the lower right abdomen is felt, though pain on the lower left isn’t completely unheard of. If pain is felt on both sides, it is likely this isn’t the injury affecting you.

Complete the pubic probe method to diagnose yourself and ensure you don’t have this much more dangerous problem.

Get the ULTIMATE Sports Hernia Master Guide with 30+ included resources, an in-depth rehabilitation program, tips, tricks, and more! Successfully diagnose, treat, and cure your sports hernia with this complete master guide created by a sports hernia specialist. Note that it is still highly recommended to read this article in full to understand how to get the most out of the guide to treat and cure your sports hernia or groin pain.

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Cause of Lower Abdominal Pain

Increasing research shows that injuries of the lower abs, groin, adductors, and hips are linked. The connecting piece seems to dysfunctional hip and pelvic function. Injuries to the lower abdomen and groin rarely happen with an acute, sudden event such as an overly aggressive and explosive twist in a competitive sporting event. When this happens, it is a serious lower abdominal muscle tear and must be treated with surgery immediately.

Alternatively, what happens more of the time is a gradual decrease in the healthy range of motion of the hips. This is often caused by muscular imbalances that develop over long periods of time.

While modern life affords many pleasures and conveniences, it also comes with the price of extended sitting, slouching, and general bad posture. This causes a loss of flexibility, strength, and mobility.

As some muscles in your hips become tighter and tighter, they become weaker and your range of motion decreases. In almost all cases your abs will become weaker as well—they go hand and hand. But the strong adductor muscles of your inner thigh only become stronger with more use. Eventually, this uneven balance in strength between strong adductors and a weak abdominal wall becomes too much for the lower abdominal area to bear—resulting in injury.

This also causes one side of your body to adapt and behave differently; one common example of this is unevenly-rotated femurs. While standing with a natural posture, look down at your feet. If one foot is rotated out more than the other, it is a clear sign that you have dysfunctional movement patters contributing to your pain.

In physical therapy, there is a very simple concept: correct movement is corrective.

What does this mean? It is best explained by looking at the alternative: incorrect movement. When your body behaves and moves unevenly (such as in the example above where one foot is rotated out more) it places a large amount of stress on surrounding soft tissues that are required to compensate for the unevenly distributed forces.

By strengthening weak areas and restoring flexibility, balance and symmetry to your core you can not only stop pain symptoms but fix the root of the issue and recovery long-term.

How to Treat a Pulled or Torn Abdominal Muscle: Rehabilitation Plan

For the first week after injury, focus should be placed on rest, ice, and compression. Once swelling and inflammation begins to reside, the treatment plan can begin.

Follow the full-core rehab program for a full walkthrough of the steps needed to permanent recovery.

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About the Author

Squatting 500 pounds on an ohio rogue bar with a sports hernia

Jon Chambers

Jon Chambers is a powerlifter, strength coach, sports hernia expert, and writer involved in the strength training community for almost a decade on a mission to create the best strength and fitness guides on the web.