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Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant

Posted 22 Dec 07

Why do I get abdominal pain when doing sit-ups?


I have been getting pain in my abdominal region whilst undertaking either forward bends (touching toes), or when doing crunches or sit-ups. The pain is like a cramp in my upper left side just below my ribs, and only happens occasionally, but can be extremely painful. Do you have any ides what this could be?


Our expert says...

Hi Russell,

There are several potential reasons why you experience this pain when you place your body in a crunch type position where the stomach muscles are shortened:

1) Dehydration ? research suggests that dehydration can cause electrolyte imbalances and this can impact the ability of muscle tissue to contract and relax effectively, sometimes resulting in muscle cramp or spasm. Some muscle groups tend to be more prone (i.e. the calf = lower leg muscles) but essentially any skeletal muscle could suffer so this may be a cause of your pain.

2) Minor muscle tear where the abdominals attach on to the lower ribs ? this can be done by a strenuous movement or by doing sit ups/crunches themselves and would require rest.

3) Hernia ? a hernia (tear in the abdominal wall) is very common, often cuased by an overexertion and tends to merely require rest to recover.

4) Your breathing technique during abdominal exercises- it is actually amazing common for individuals to hold their breath when doing abdominal exercise and this restricts oxygen to the working muscles (as well as the other tissues in the body!) and can result in muscle fatigue, spasm and pain. So next time you do your abdominal exercises ensure that on the way up in a crunch you breath out and avoid holding your breath at any point.

If none of the above appears applicable and/or the issue persists, then I would recommend just getting your GP to check and rule out a hernia for definite. So drink more water, consider the dehydrating affects of caffeinated drinks and alcohol and check your breathing technique when doing your sit-ups.

Hope this helps


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