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Know the Difference: Abdominal Strain vs. Hernia

Because they have similar symptoms and causes, abdominal Strain and hernia are frequently confused. However, there's a huge difference in the physiology of both illnesses and how both conditions are treated. 

So, you need to know the difference: between abdominal strain vs. Hernia.

Thankfully, We'll delve more into these two conditions and what distinguishes them in this article.

Abdominal Strain Definition

An abdominal muscle strain occurs due to tearing, stretching, or rupturing stomach muscles. A common name for this condition is a pulled abdominal muscle.

What are Abdominal Muscles?

The abdominal muscles are the musculoskeletal muscles between the pelvic region and the ribs in front of the body. These muscles support the body's midsection and the underlying organs in these areas and enable movement. 

The abdominal and back muscles provide support and stabilization to the spine and play a huge role in everyday movements like sitting, standing, exercising, and walking.

The abdomen muscles include the following:

  • Oblique muscles are responsible for rotating your body left and right through a contraction.
  • The rectus abdominus muscles are the ones that form the "six-pack abs," which allow movement between the pelvis and ribcage.
  • The transversus abdominus muscles are the deep abdominal muscles that help protect organs and stabilize the trunk.

Where Abdominal Muscle Strains Occur

A strain can occur within any body muscle, and it is no different in the abdominal muscles.

Anyone can come down with this condition, but people who engage in sports like tennis and football, which require a lot of side-to-side trunk movements, are more likely to have abdominal strain. Abdominal Strain can occur in the left, right, upper or lower abdomen. 

Hernia Definition

A hernia is a clinical condition where an organ, usually in the abdomen, protrudes through the tissue wall or muscle covering it. More than a million hernia procedures have been done in the United States, and about one-tenth of the entire population will have this condition in their lifetime. 

The most common kind is the inguinal or groin hernia. Other kinds, such as the incisional, umbilical, and others, don't occur as frequently.

Inguinal (groin) Hernias

Inguinal hernias occur in both males and females, but women have a higher chance of developing other complications due to the illness. Women's cases are also more likely to become emergencies and require surgical repair. Men may decide not to undergo surgery if they don't present with any symptoms. 

Although the likelihood of this emergency occurring in men is low, since the hernia grows and begins to manifest symptoms over time, men might require surgical repair within 10 years of diagnosis. 

Anyone, regardless of gender, can have this condition, and the common misconception that only men get it is likely due to women being much more likely to be underdiagnosed because their symptoms differ from men's. An MRI will be useful in differentiating hernia cases.

Abdominal Hernias

In both women and men, surgical repair is required for abdominal hernias. There are risk factors for the recurrence of this condition, such as obesity and uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes.

If the patient has this condition, it is advised that they manage it before a surgical procedure. With an abdominal hernia, some patients are asymptomatic and can decide to delay the surgery after weighing the risks and benefits with their doctor or surgeon.

Anyone who has previously had abdominal surgery is more likely to develop an abdominal hernia. This is because the scar tissue isn't as strong as the original one so a hernia can form around the incision. Pregnancy is another risk factor associated with an umbilical hernia.

Symptoms of Hernia in Men

  • A visible bulge or a bulge you can feel
  • Pain in the hernia site
  • A feeling of building pressure
  • Tugging sensation around the testicles
  • Pain that gets worse with activities that add pressure to the affected area, like pushing, heavy lifting, and straining

Symptoms of Hernia in Women

  • Aching or sharp pain
  • A burning sensation in the affected area
  • a bulge at the hernia site that may not involve the groin.
  • Discomfort increases with an activity that adds pressure to the area.

Causes: Abdominal Strain vs. Hernia

Here are a variety of activities that can cause abdominal strain.

  • Carrying heavy objects, especially when done incorrectly.
  • A sudden movement of the abdominal region
  • High-intensity or excessive exercise
  • Vigorous laughing, sneezing, or coughing
  • All other vigorous activities that engage the abdominal muscles

A hernia may develop much later as tissues or muscles wear out over time. Any activity that causes an increase in tension in the abdominal region can cause a hernia, including

  • Carrying heavy equipment without initially stabilizing the muscles in the abdomen
  • GI disorders like diarrhea 
  • Recurrent coughing or sneezing

Symptoms: Abdominal Strain vs. Hernia

If you have a strained abdominal muscle, the lining of your tummy may feel inflamed and tender. You might suddenly feel sharp pain, especially when moving or doing any other activity that contracts the abdominal muscles. 

The symptoms may include:

  • Acute aching pain
  • Muscle contractions and difficulty in movement
  • Swelling in the abdominal region
  • Weakness of the abdominal muscles

People with hernias describe the feeling as aching, mild pain, or a pressure buildup at the affected area. The pain worsens with vigorous activity that strains or adds pressure to the abdominal region, such as high-intensity exercises, heavy weight lifting, bowel movements, passing gas, or running.

Depending on the affected area of the body, the symptoms are the following:

  • Discomfort or sharp pain in the hernia site
  • A bulge in the affected area
  • Burning feeling in the affected area
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or Constipation

Signs of a Hernia Emergency

When hernias start, the internal tissue that pushes on the muscle gap most times is fatty tissue. However, part of the bowel or intestine can protrude through the opening. This risk is very low, but it needs emergency repair when it happens. Seek immediate medical attention if you have the following:

  • An aching bulge that doesn't diminish
  • Pain that worsens over time
  • Nausea 
  • Difficulty defecating or passing gas
  • Bloated tummy
  • racing heart rate
  • Fever 

Treatment: Abdominal Strain vs. Hernia

There's no difference between the way Abdominal and regular muscle strains are managed and treated. The person is advised to rest for some time. Using an ice pack to reduce inflammation or swelling can be beneficial. 

Applying heat to the area, later on, can aid the healing process, increase blood circulation around the area, and eventually spread the healing process. If the staring affects the back region, you may need knee & back braces to aid movement.

After symptoms subside, you should work out regularly, engaging in exercises that strengthen the core, like crunches, plank, and glute bridges. Always remember to do a quick warm-up before any exercise. Start small and gradually increase your number of reps on each exercise. Take breaks intermittently and work on building better posture. Knee & back braces can help you achieve proper posture.

Over-the-counter(OTC) analgesics that can relieve pain and discomfort are also recommended.

Hernia treatment varies depending on the symptoms, sex of the patient, and type of hernia. Usually, hernias aren't life-threatening upon diagnosis, but they may later require surgery since they don't disappear without surgery. 

If the patient doesn't address the situation on time, the condition can progress into much worse complications, such as bowel obstruction and death of the tissue enclosing the hernia. In a condition known as strangulated hernia, the dead tissue gets trapped in the sac, losing its vascularisation. 

Know the Difference: Abdominal Strain vs. Hernia

Both medical conditions require immediate clinical intervention, and patients who notice these symptoms should visit the hospital immediately.

Warning emergency signs include severe pain that interferes with sleeping or regularly scheduled activities, difficulty walking, inability to have bowel movements, fainting, dizziness, pale skin, fever, and cold sweats.

Possible Causes




High Intensity exercise

Wrong posture while lifting heavy objects

Quick movements

Gastrointestinal disorders like Diarrhea, Constipation

Increased Abdominal pressure

Lasting cough or sneezing





Visible bulge in abdominal region

Sharp aching pain that worsens with lifting heavy items or movement

Burning or aching sensation


Muscle Cramps or stiffness






Use of abdominal binder

Surgical repair

Applying ice

OTC pain medication

Applying heat



Abdominal muscle strains tend to get better with time as you rest and receive appropriate treatment. After the Strain has been relieved, it is essential to engage in exercises that strengthen the core muscles to prevent further occurrences.

On the other hand, Hernias may require more urgent attention because they tend to get worse with time and can lead to more serious complications. This is one more reason why it is vital to know the difference: between abdominal strain vs. Hernia.

Thankfully, this article has discussed essential information you should know. 

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