Do you suffer from pain in your side muscles while sitting, lifting, or bending over? A side strain can impact almost every part of your life, making everyday tasks almost impossible. Also known as an oblique muscle strain, a side strain can develop into a serious injury if proper treatment is not found in a timely manner. Below we cover everything you need to know about treating and recovering from a side strain.
A side muscle strain is when the internal oblique muscles tear away from one of the four lower ribs or the costal cartilage. It is a common injury that can happen with any motion that involves the side muscles, and can happen suddenly or over time.
Side Strain Classification
There are three degrees of a side strain and while most people will only suffer a first degree side strain, though more serious injuries do happen.
A first degree side strain is a mild strain with damage to only a few muscle fibers. You will have full range of motion and no decrease in strength with the affected muscle. The tenderness and pain that occurs typically happens the following day.
A second degree side strain is a partial tear of the muscle and involves many more muscle fibers. There is significant pain and swelling at the site of the injury. Suffers will also experience a mild decrease in strength with the affected muscle.
A third degree side strain is a complete tear of the muscle or a tear of the muscle from the tendon. If this happened to you, you would completely lose muscle function. It is incredibly painful and luckily rare.
Side Strain Causes
A left or right side muscle strain typically follows an action that activates the oblique muscles. If you rapidly move your oblique or side back muscle, a strain or tear may occur. Contact your doctor to get a diagnosis but here are the most common causes of a side strain:
Chronic cough or sneezing
Sports activities like golf, cricket, hockey, tennis, or golf
Overall lack of core strength
Side Strain Symptoms
Your symptoms will vary depending on the severity of your side strain. If you have a first degree strain, you may experience tightness and pain near the lower ribs. It is important to not continue with activities that can aggravate the strain.
More severe symptoms, like these below, are associated with higher degree strains.
Sharp, sudden pain with movement
Pain with any movement of the upper body
Side muscle is sore to the touch
Pain with taking a deep breath
Bruising at the site of the injury
Side Strain Diagnosis
Contact your doctor to get a quick diagnosis if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. Your doctor may suggest one of the following diagnostic tests to get you onto the road to recovery.
Medical History and Physical Exam
Your doctor will complete a thorough physical exam. Through the information you provide and what he or she sees on the exam your doctor will be able to make an informed diagnosis. The below diagnostic tools will help determine the extent of your injury.
A side strain ultrasound is an inexpensive way to look at the muscles. With this picture, your doctor will be able to make a more accurate diagnosis.
A side strain MRI provides the most thorough picture of your muscles. It can help your doctor determine the degree of injury and follow your healing progress.
Side Strain Treatment
A strained back muscle on the right or left side can really slow you down. Below we have covered many of the treatments and how you can incorporate them into your recovery.
An NSAID is a great over the counter medication that will decrease the swelling and your pain. Always discuss the use of over the counter medications prior to taking one with your doctor.
This may be the easiest and yet the hardest recovery advice for people to accept. Do not continue activities that involve movement or stretching of your side muscles. Allow your muscles to heal and try to enjoy your time relaxing.
Ice and Heat Therapy
Try this neck ice pack for flexible cooling that conforms to your size and shape. ( See product )
After a side strain injury, an ice pack is a great way to calm inflammation and dull pain. Avoid placing the ice pack directly against your skin. Keep the ice pack on for 20 to 30 minute intervals.
A hot wrap can be a perfect hands-free solution for back and neck aches. ( See product )
After the initial injury phase, a hot wrap will help decrease healing time. Heat improves blood flow to the site of the injury. This will provide your muscles more of the oxygen and nutrients it needs for a speedy recovery.
Find the support and stability you're looking for with a quality back brace. ( See product )
A side strain back brace will compress the injured area and provide support. The compression decreases swelling and improves healing time. You’ll feel more secure with the added support on your mid-section. Be sure to look for a brace that is adjustable as your body size will change with the swelling.
Massage roller balls deliver target massage while remaining portable. See for yourself! ( See product )
A side strain massage ball will promote circulation to your injured side. An increase in blood flow to the injury will improve healing time. Use this massage ball after the immediate injury phase, when your muscles are healing.
Side Strain Exercises
A solid exercise and stretching routine may help your side strain heal faster. These movements should only be done if you do not feel pain and after your doctor approves you for exercise.
Oblique Muscle Stretch
Step 1: Lie flat on your back and keep your knees together.
Step 2: Slowly drop your knees down to the left side.
Step 3: Slowly bring your knees back up.
Step 4: Slowly drop your knees down to the right side.
Step 5: Your feet do not need to stay flat on the floor.
Step 6: Bring your arms above your head for an added stretch.
Side Strain Yoga Stretch
Step 1: Sit on the floor with knees crossed.
Step 2: Bring right hand to the floor and side your hand out.
Step 3: Lift your left arm over your head.
Step 4: Slowly bend towards your right side until your right elbow touches the ground.
Step 5: Come back up to midline.
Step 6: Repeat the above movements with the other side.
Oblique Stretching Techniques
Step 1: Half kneel down, with the right foot on the ground.
Step 2: Place your left hand above your head with a straight arm.
Step 3: Gently stretch your arm back away from the front knee.
Step 4: Repeat 10-15 times.
Step 5: Repeat the above movements with the other side.
Side strain recurrence is common. It isn’t unusual for people to feel better after one or two weeks and restart their activities only to re-injure their side. Listen to your body and allow at least four to six weeks, or even longer for severe injuries, for a full recovery.
A muscle strain left side or right side can impact almost every part of your life, following your doctor’s recommendations will get you back to doing what you love!
Getting Back into Action after a Side Strain
A side strain is the last thing anyone wants to deal with. However, if you do happen to strain your oblique muscle a full understanding of how to heal it will be instrumental to your recovery. Let your body rest, use a good brace, and with your doctor’s approval follow the exercises we mentioned above.
Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.