An abdominal muscle pull or strain occurs when you stretch or tear one of the muscles in your belly. This usually occurs as the result of lifting a heavy object or doing excessive crunches or sit-ups; however, it can even happen during a hard cough or sneeze. Symptoms of an Abdominal Muscle Strain: The symptoms of an abdominal muscle strain can vary depending on the severity of the injury. The most common symptoms include: • Muscle stiffness and discomfort. • Muscle pain and soreness. • The area is tender to the touch. • Swelling and bruising. • Difficulty stretching or flexing the muscle. • Muscle spasms. Immediate First Aid Treatment: Immediately after experiencing any type of pulled muscle, you should apply ice to the affected area. This will relieve the pain and slow any inflammation or bruising. You can use the ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time every two to three hours as needed. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen can also be beneficial in alleviating pain. You should always take these medications according to package directions, and you should not use them for more than 10 days without consulting your doctor. Of course, you should avoid any activities that put stress on the affected muscle until you have completely healed. The healing process may take up to six weeks in the case of a severe strain. Follow-Up Care: Your healthcare provider may prescribe a course of physical therapy focused on stretching and strengthening your core abdominal muscles. At this stage, you may find that applying moist heat for 10 to 15 minutes before stretching will help relax tight muscles. You should not use heat therapy as long as you continue to have swelling. You can reduce your chances of an abdominal strain by gently stretching and warming up before activities. Exercises that build core strength will keep your abdominal muscles strong and flexible so that they are less susceptible to injury. If you are starting a new workout routine, be sure to start gradually to avoid overuse injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Finally, you should use proper technique when lifting heavy objects, which involves keeping the back straight while you bend your hips and knees.