Abdominal Muscle Spasm
What is abdominal muscle spasm?
Abdominal muscle spasm, also known as abdominal rigidity, is a powerful, involuntary contraction of the muscles of the abdomen. During a spasm, the muscle will feel stiff and tender if you apply pressure. The major abdominal muscles include the transversus abdominus, the deepest layer of muscle, which stabilizes your trunk; the rectus abdominus, sometimes called the “six pack,” which runs between the ribs and the pubic bone and supports movements between the rib cage and the pelvis; and the internal and external oblique muscles, which provide support and are used when twisting the trunk.
Like any other muscles in the body, your abdominal muscles can have spasms that occur as a result of muscle strain during heavy use or overuse, fatigue, dehydration, and alcohol or drug use. Abdominal muscle strain is a common injury among athletes and can cause muscle spasms. However, because the colon and small intestine are the predominant organs in the lower abdomen, most abnormal abdominal spasms are due to acute disorders of the intestines, such as bowel obstruction, perforation, or diverticulitis. Other causes originating in the organs within the abdomen include gallstones, hernia, and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Abdominal muscle spasms, especially when related to a known cause such as strenuous exercise, are usually not serious. However, because abdominal muscle spasm can sometimes indicate a serious disorder, you should contact your health care provider if you have any spasm that appears unrelated to overexertion or if an exercise-induced spasm does not stop quickly.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have abdominal muscle spasms that are severe or if you experience persistent abdominal muscle spasms along with any of the following symptoms: green or bloody vomit; blood in the stool or urine; continuous severe pain in one area, especially below the navel or just below the ribs; chest pain; confusion; high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); or shortness of breath.
Seek prompt medical care if your abdominal muscle spasm is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern.
What other symptoms might occur with abdominal muscle spasm?
Abdominal muscle spasm may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.
Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with abdominal muscle spasm
Abdominal muscle spasm may accompany other symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal system including:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating
- Change in bowel habits
- Discolored stools
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Pulsating mass in the abdomen
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
Cardiopulmonary symptoms that may occur along with abdominal muscle spasm
Abdominal muscle spasm may accompany other symptoms affecting the cardiopulmonary systems including:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing (tachypnea)
Other symptoms that may occur along with abdominal muscle spasm
Abdominal muscle spasm may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Bloody or pink-colored urine (hematuria)
- Bulge in the groin area or abdomen
- Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, abdominal muscle spasm may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms along with abdominal muscle spasm:
What causes abdominal muscle spasm?
Like any other muscle in the human body, your abdominal muscles can have spasms as a result of muscle strain during heavy use or overuse, fatigue, dehydration, and alcohol or drug use. Abdominal muscle strain is a common injury among athletes and can cause muscle spasms. Abnormal abdominal spasms may also be caused by acute disorders of the organs located within the abdomen, particularly the intestines.
Gastrointestinal causes of abdominal muscle spasm
Abdominal muscle spasm may be caused by gastrointestinal disorders including:
- Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)
- Intussusception (a condition in which one part of the intestine collapses into another part)
Other possible causes of abdominal muscle spasm
Abdominal muscle spasm can also be caused by other conditions including:
Serious or life-threatening causes of abdominal muscle spasm
In some cases, abdominal muscle spasm may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Aortic dissection
- Bowel obstruction
- Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines that can lead to death of intestinal tissue)
- Perforated bowel
Questions for diagnosing the cause of abdominal muscle spasm
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your abdominal muscle spasm including:
- How long have you had these abdominal muscle spasms? How often do they occur?
- Have you noticed anything that seems related to their occurrence?
- Have you experienced any abdominal pain or bloating?
- Have you seen any changes in your bowel movements or habits?
- Have you had any bleeding from your rectum or blood in your urine?
- Have you had any kind of stomach upset or heartburn?
- How much alcohol do you drink?
- What medications are you taking?
In most cases, abdominal muscle spasms related to exercise or muscle strain are not serious. However, because abnormal abdominal spasms can be due to serious underlying conditions, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying condition is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including: