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Sidelined by Side Strain? Learn About Oblique Muscle Pain

woman doing crunches, know about oblique muscle pain


Also dubbed side strain, oblique muscle pain can be a persistent discomfort that affects the sides of your abdominal area. There are many possible causes for this pain to emerge, but it typically occurs in athletes or those doing repetitive motions such as twisting, bending, or heavy lifting. 

Hopefully, you’re not reading this page gripping your sides in unease - getting over this condition is definitely no walk in the park… so let’s get started and explore all things oblique! 

Oblique Muscle Pain: Causes and Characteristics

Oblique muscle pain is typically characterized by localized tenderness over the lateral trunk near the rib cage. [1] Usually, athletes who have to use one side of their body/arm to do explosive movements will experience this type of pain - think of baseball players as they bat, pitch, or throw.

Per an article published in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, abdominal oblique muscle strain is the second most common injury for Major League Baseball athletes when sitting out a game. The article also reports, “… most injury sites were at the region of the muscle insertion to the lower ribs… this was because the region is weak and vulnerable to injury.” [2]

Other sports you’ll see this type of injury include (but not limited to):

  • Cricket
  • Tennis
  • Ice hockey
  • Golf
  • Rowing

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Pain with twisting or bending sideways
  • Difficulty breathing deeply
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness in your torso
  • Pain that worsens with exertion
  • Restricted range of motion


What Are Your Obliques? 

The obliques are the group of muscles located on the sides of your abdomen. The external obliques run diagonally down and inward from your lower ribs towards the pelvis. The internal obliques lie beneath the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.

know about oblique muscle pain and oblique anatomy


The overall function of these muscle groups is essentially:

  • Rotating your torso
  • Bending to the side
  • Core stability

Oblique Muscle Pain: Moving Forward

Right off the bat (see what I did there), rest and physical therapy are go-to conservative treatments. Light stretching (see next section for more info on stretches) after the initial stage of rest can also be helpful. After a couple of weeks, some strengthening exercises can also be incorporated. [1] 

How is it diagnosed? According to the Fukushima Journal of Medical Science, after a physical exam is performed, other assessments include palpation of the tender area and confirmation by MRI and/or ultrasound. The use of imaging procedures can not only help provide the diagnosis but also determine your expected time to recovery.


Oblique Muscle Pain: Stretches

Here are some oblique stretches you can try!

Side Stretch

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Raise one arm over your head
  3. Gently lean to the opposite side
  4. Repeat on the other side

Seated Twist:

  1. Sit on the floor with legs extended
  2. Bend one knee and place the foot outside the opposite knee
  3. Twist your torso to the bent knee side
  4. Use your elbow to deepen the stretch
  5. Repeat on the other side

Standing Trunk Rotation:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Interlace your fingers and extend your arms straight in front of you
  3. Rotate your torso to one side (keep your hips straight forward)
  4. Return to center and repeat on the other side

Also, check out this lying oblique muscle stretch that is easy to do!

Oblique Muscle Pain and Your Lower Back

It isn’t common for those with oblique muscle pain to experience lower back pain. Typically there will be chest or abdominal wall pain closer to your rib cage, with low back pain (LBP) being a rare occurrence.

Although it is rare, it doesn’t mean this can’t happen! There was a reported case of a baseball player who had unilateral low back pain that was overlooked as it was caused by an internal oblique muscle injury. [2] 

MRI continued to reveal that there was an oblique muscle injury at the junction of the thoracolumbar fascia and the costal cartilage interface. The good news is, that this particular person had a successful recovery and no recurrence of injury in the 12 months that followed. 

This case of overlooked internal oblique injury with LBP was about a baseball pitcher, and the reason for this missed diagnosis in the first place was due to palpation being skipped in his initial physical examination. So, if you feel this might be you… advocate for yourself and have a thorough physical that includes imaging and palpation!  

Oblique Muscle Pain FAQ

What does a strained oblique feel like?

A strained oblique usually feels like a sharp or stabbing pain on the side of your abdominal area - which gets worse with movements such as bending, twisting, or even coughing. Additionally, you would feel tenderness when pressure is applied to the area.

How do you relieve oblique pain?

The first intervention here is REST! Depending on the extent of your injury (which can be determined by a healthcare professional with diagnostic tests/imaging), rest will be your main road to recovery.

Other ways of helping the pain include ice packs, over-the-counter pain relievers, and light stretching after the acute/initial pain stage subsides. Also, try out a CBD salve if you’d like to tackle the inflammation and discomfort with an all-natural option. 

Use CBD salve for oblique muscle pain

How long does it take for a strained oblique muscle to heal?

One study reports that the average time for athletes to heal and return to play was about 4-5 weeks after a side strain. [2] This is a fluid timeframe to take note of, however, since everyone is different. The extent of the strain is a main factor and what you decide to do to achieve full recovery is up to you! 

How long does it take a muscle strain to heal?

See the previous question!

Oblique Muscle Pain: Conclusion

In conclusion, oblique muscle pain may require a more thorough examination to be accurately diagnosed - so that it may be properly addressed and you can get back to 100% as quickly as possible! It’s important to know, that re-injuries of oblique muscles are problematic and can occur in about 12% of baseball players. [1]  

Because there appears to be minimal injury and pain management out there surrounding the topic of your obliques, make sure to be aware of your core muscles or any movements that put you at risk for this type of strain. Having a strong core appears to be helpful as well. Now that you’ve read about oblique muscle pain, check out our other resources on other types of muscle pain! 


[1] Kato, K., Otoshi, K., Yabuki, S., Otani, K., Nikaido, T., Watanabe, K., Kobayashi, H., Handa, J., Konno, S. Abdominal oblique muscle injury at its junction with the thoracolumbar fascia in a high school baseball player presenting with unilateral low back pain. Fukushima Journal of Medical Science, 2021. 

[2] Komatsu, S., Kaneko, H., Nagashima, M. Characteristics of internal oblique muscle strain in professional baseball players: a case series. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2022. 

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