Abdominal Pain After Exercise: Causes and Remedies

Abdominal pain after workout may or may not be a normal part of exercising and increasing muscle tone. You may have heard at the gym "no pain, no gain," but abdominal pain can be concerning. While you may be developing abdominal muscles and tone, this could also be a signal from your body to slow down a little. Normal and usual abdominal pain after exercise isn't really a cause for concern and may clear up with a period of rest. Here are some of the causes of this and ways to deal with it.

What Causes the Pain?

When you suffer from abdominal pain, it doesn't always mean you injured yourself. Abdominal pain that comes on suddenly during exercise is more often a sign of an injury. When the abdominal discomfort is more delayed after you have finished your workout, this is more due to the intensity of your workout. You will most likely notice this type of pain around 12 to 48 hours after you exercise, and a sign that your abdominal muscles are going through a recovery phase.

Intense, sudden, and sharp pain should always be evaluated by your physician. Here are some of the most common causes of abdominal pain after exercise:

1. Food Intake Prior to Exercise

Exercise increases the need in your heart for blood. When you increase the intensity of your exercise, blood is shunted away from the abdominal organs and into your heart and brain, the body's vital life sustaining organs. Things like digestion, urination, and bowels lose some of the blood they need to work during exercise. If you eat too much or the wrong foods prior to exercise, less blood to your stomach may cause abdominal pain or even nausea, and vomiting. Less blood to the intestinal area can cause cramping in the lower abdomen and even diarrhea.

2. Inadequate Warm-Up

If you are hitting the abdominal muscles hard during a workout, this may cause soreness and pain after you exercise. If you forget to warm up your muscles, this can cause too much strain on them during a workout. Inadequate warm-up prior to working out decreases blood flow to your cold and tight muscles. Not warming them up can actually cause injury or tearing in the muscle tissues.

3. Ligament Pain "Side-Stitch"

When you experience a "stitch" in your side from exercise, this happens due to strain on the ligaments near your liver and diaphragm. It is most commonly felt from swimming, running, or brisk walking exercise.

It occurs in relation to your use of accessory breathing muscles. When you take a breath in, this lifts these muscles upwards and out. If you're running or doing something that requires downward action of your muscles, the two sets naturally work against each other causing strain. The actual "stitch" is a spasm in the diaphragm due to these muscles being tossed in every direction, and a lower flow of oxygen to these ligaments and muscles.

4. Thoracic Spine Pain

Pain in your thoracic (chest area) spine can actually be referred forward to your abdominal area. During exercise, you may have pulled or strained a muscle in your mid to upper back area. While you may or may not feel pain in your back, the nerves run along the same lines as your middle abdomen. This may cause the pain to be "referred" or felt elsewhere in the area, like your stomach.

5. Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is a little more than just soreness from normal exercise. If you pushed your abdominal muscles over their limit, you can strain them. While only a simple injury that heals quickly, it can be severely painful. When you strain the muscles, you actually tear some of the tiny muscle fibers from bending too far, twisting, or even crunching them.

6. Hernia

A hernia occurs when you overexert your abdominal muscles to the point that you push some of the soft tissues through the muscle wall. A hole or tear can develop in the muscles due to excessive strain from lifting weights or pulling too hard using the abdominal muscles. You may have dull pain just after exercise, or may even experience a sharp tearing pain during exercise. This does need to be seen by a doctor, and can cause recurring pain.

7. Bleeding

If you rupture something in your abdomen due to exercise, you may experience internal bleeding. This is most common in exercise situations or sports that involve bodily contact, or can result from a fall during exercise. Watch out for abdominal pain that accompanies dizziness, swelling of the abdomen, feeling weak, drop in blood pressure, or if your skin turns pale. This condition requires emergency medical care!

8. Stomach Ulcer

Working out can cause your stomach to produce more gastric acid during exercise. If you work out on a completely empty stomach, the excess gastric acid can cause burns to the lining of the stomach wall. This leads to stomach ulcers, and can cause abdominal pain after exercise or when your stomach is empty.

Any Ways to Help?

You may just need to give your sore abdominal muscles some "TLC" after a workout. Overworking them may cause swelling and bruising, which isn't really cause for concern. A few days of rest and home treatment helps to give them time to heal up. Always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how you're feeling and before you use any new types of over-the-counter medications. Here are a few things you can try to help relieve abdominal muscle pain:

  1. Rest and take it easy on your stomach muscles. Try skipping a few days of your workout to give them some time to heal.
  2. Take OTC pain relievers or anti-inflammatories. This can help with pain and swelling. Only use these medications according to the recommended dosage and only for a few days.
  3. Try alternating hot and cold. Soak in a warm tub with Epsom salts sprinkled in. You can also soak in a cool tub to help relieve swelling.
  4. Use a heating pad. If you are sure you don't have any kind of injury, you may be able to hold a heating pad up to your stomach. Do this for 15 minutes on and then take a break for 20 minutes and repeat.
  5. If the pain does not subside after a few days, give your doctor a call. You may have a strain or hernia that needs medical attention.

Can You Prevent It?

You may not be able to completely prevent abdominal pain after exercise, but you can do a few things to help before you start your workout. Try these tips before you get started:

  • Eat light: Eat something, but eat light and time your eating so that you aren't too full when you get started. Save large meals for about 3 hours after your workout and eat a light meal an hour or two before.
  • Warm up those muscles: Make sure you warm-up those muscles before each and every workout. This helps to ensure all the muscles are receiving adequate blood flow and warm enough to prevent injury. Try stretching and jogging in place for at least 5 to 10 minutes prior to each workout.
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