Oblique muscles assist movement for daily activities and support your core. They are primarily responsible for any twisting movements you make with your body. A strain occurs when the oblique muscles have been torn or overstretched. While it is not a very common injury for non-athletes, it is fairly common among athletes, especially those that play sports that require a lot of turning and twisting. There are 3 types of oblique strains. A first degree strain means the oblique muscles have stretched too far but have not torn. A second degree strain means there are small rips or partial tears, while a third degree strain indicates a rupture or complete tear of the oblique muscles. The most common symptoms are pain, stiffness, tenderness, and bruising. It may be difficult to do any activity that involves twisting. In third degree strains, there may be uncontrollable spasms, and sometimes internal bleeding or a hernia.
Oblique muscle strains are more prevalent among workers with jobs requiring pulling, pushing, or heavy lifting, and athletes. There are two main causes of an oblique strain: a sudden impact which overstrains the muscle immediately or a repetitive activity that over time breaks down the oblique muscles. A sudden impact is a common cause among athletes, especially baseball players. This is because both pitchers and hitters are constantly turning and twisting their core at a high speed, either to throw a pitch or hit a ball. Turning too quickly can result in an oblique muscle strain. It can also happen in football or basketball, or any other sport that requires quick twisting and turning. For non-athletes, lifting a heavy object too fast or with improper form can result in a strained oblique. The second category also relates to baseball players, as the constant turning of the core can break down the oblique muscles over time. For non-athletes, this category refers to workers who have jobs that require frequent pushing or pulling.
The main goal of treating a strained oblique is reducing inflammation and pain, and preventing any bleeding that may occur. You should follow the RICE protocol. It is important to rest, and avoid any strenuous activity to allow the muscle to recuperate. Ice the area to reduce swelling and pain. Make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a thin towel to prevent skin damage. Ice for about 20 minutes at a time every couple of hours. You can use an elastic bandage to compress the area which will also help reduce swelling. For the pain, you can take over-the-counter medication, or prescription painkillers if prescribed by your doctor. In severe cases, such as if the muscle is completely torn or ruptured, you may need surgery to reconstruct the oblique muscles. The Cleveland Clinic has more information on how to treat an oblique strain at home.
A mild to moderate oblique strain typically takes 3-4 weeks to recover. If you have a rupture or tear, however, it may take longer, because you will require surgery. With your doctor’s approval, you can start participating in low-impact exercises. This provides a complete workout without placing significant stress on your oblique muscles. These exercises include walking on a treadmill, cycling, and swimming. Do not try any exercise that causes pain in the oblique and stop any exercise if symptoms begin to return. Avoid exercises that require you to use your abdominal muscles, such as sit-ups or crunches. To prevent an oblique strain, stretch before participating in sports or exercising. This helps make your muscles more flexible, and helps prevent injuries caused by overuse. You can also do exercises (such as side bends and twists) to help strengthen your core.