Cutting Into Your Sport

Oblique strains can send even well-conditioned athletes home for an extended period

Sharp. Stabbing. Knife-like.

That’s how sufferers from oblique strain describe the pain they experienced.  A strain is a tearing of the muscle, and depending on the grade of the tear, it can put an athlete out of their game for days, weeks, or even months. Because of the location of the oblique muscles, such a strain can potentially make daily life difficult.

“Internal and external oblique muscles are called that because they are obliquely oriented, that is, they are a band of muscles slanted across each side of your trunk,” explains physical therapist Michele Schroeder. “These muscles are responsible for flexing and rotating the trunk while providing support to the abdomen and pelvis.”

Oblique strains are not commonly seen outside of athletic activities. They are more prevalent in sports such as baseball, golf, tennis, soccer, and wrestling, where players often have to twist or turn their body at a high rate of speed.

“Occasionally, the patient will be sent for an MRI to confirm the tear,” Schroeder says. “The first step of treatment is, of course, rest. The patient may also need a pain reliever, as we use our trunk muscles for daily tasks such as getting out of bed, reaching for anything on a shelf, and so much more. Coughing and sneezing can also be painful for someone with an oblique strain.”

Physical therapy may benefit athletes who want to return to their sport stronger and wiser.

“We can develop a program to address muscular imbalances and weaknesses, and help athletes figure out how not to re-injure themselves,” Schroeder says. “Physical therapy can also help those who are still recovering from pain and just want to get back to their normal life.”
Schroeder notes that people should not be concerned about an oblique strain if they wake up after a day of playing hard and simply feel soreness in their torso.

“The pain from an oblique strain is intense,” she says. “Whatever you’re doing at the moment, you’ll say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Ready To Play

Prevention of oblique strain means thinking about, and working on, your body before that first serve, swing, or kick:

  • Maintain a good level of general fitness. Only exerting yourself as a weekend warrior could put you at risk.
  • Address weaknesses in your core muscles. You need to not only keep your core strong but maximize your hip and back mobility.
  • Always perform an adequate warm-up. Don’t step out of the car at the golf course or the batting cages and then immediately hit your driver or swing for the home run.

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