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Rectus Abdominis Muscle: Trigger Point Pain and How To Relieve Your Pain

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LocationTrigger Point Symptoms | What Causes Trigger Points | Interesting Facts | Treatment  | Healing Time

Rectus Abdominis Pain

Trigger points in the rectus abdominis can cause a host of symptoms including pain around the sternum, lower abdomen, and bands of pain across the middle and lower back. They can also contribute to heartburn, indigestion, and feeling bloated.

If you strain the rectus abdominis, the most intense pain is felt where the strain occurs and soreness will likely extend throughout the muscle.

Where Is The Rectus Abdominis Located?

The rectus abdominis muscle attaches to the bottom of the pelvis (pubis bone) traveling up to connect to the breast bone (xiphoid process of the sternum) and the 5th, 6th, and 7th ribs.


The Rectus Abdominis Muscle

What movements does the rectus abdominis muscle control?

  • Bending over
  • Assists with breathing
  • Supports and protects the internal organs

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Rectus Abdominis Trigger Point Pain?

NOTE: Trigger points in the abdominal area cause and contribute to pain throughout the abdomen and back. Because the trunk of the body contains our vital organs, it is important to consult your doctor to rule out a serious medical cause for your symptoms.


Rectus Abdominis: Trigger Point Referral Pattern

  • Pain that runs horizontally across the mid-back under the shoulder blade
  • Pain that runs horizontally across the low back and or top of the hips
  • Pain around the sternum between the breasts (not shown)
  • Pain in the low abdomen
  • Feeling bloated
  • Heartburn and indigestion

Activities Which Contribute To Trigger Point Development In The Rectus Abdominis

  • Over-exercising muscles (sit-ups and leg-ups)
  • Shallow breathing
  • Chronic coughing and sneezing
  • Childbirth
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Scars from abdominal surgery
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Sitting in a twisted position
  • Carrying a heavy backpack

Interesting Facts About The Rectus Abdominis

  • The rectus abdominis muscle extends from ribs below the breasts to the top of the pubic bone without attaching to bone. The horizontal bands of connective tissue called tendinous intersections help the muscle maintain structure and proper length.
  • It is the muscle that gives the appearance to six-pack abs.
  • The abdominal muscles can cause a range of symptoms that can be worrisome and mimic other medical conditions such as appendicitis, gallbladder disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, endometriosis, and urinary incontinence. Lingering or sudden onset abdominal pain should be checked out by a physician.

Rectus Abdominis Muscle Pain and Symptoms Can Be Similar To, Contribute To, and Be Affected By These Medical Diagnosis:

  • Painful rib syndrome
  • Costochondritis
  • Stenosis
  • Appendicitis
  • Ulcer
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Gallbladder disorder
  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Urinary tract disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Inguinal hernia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diverticulosis
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Pelvic pain
  • Stenosis

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the rectus abdominis:

Satellite trigger points associated with the rectus abdominis muscle:

  • External and Internal Obliques
  • Tranversus Abdominis
  • Iliocostalis Thoracics
  • LumborumThoracics
  • LongissimusThoracis
  • Iliopsoas


How Do I Treat Rectus Abdominis Trigger Points?

Trigger points must be deactivated to reduce pain and increase mobility. This is accomplished by applying pressure to the trigger point for 5-10 seconds several times a day.

Fortunately, abdominis rectus trigger points are easy to treat because the muscle is close to the skin. If you do not have experience treating trigger points I recommend finding a massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor who has training in trigger point therapy, many do not.  A professional will show you how to find and treat specific trigger points as well as satellite trigger points that may need treatment.

For those who would like to learn how to treat trigger points, I highly recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The book explains the cause of trigger points, how to find them as well as treatment. It lists all muscles that develop the small knots, the area where the trigger points are located and directions on how to deactivate the painful nodules.

It is a book I refer to often and recommended to all my clients. Once you understand trigger points and learn how to treat them, you can reduce muscle pain throughout your body.

How To Use Recommended Products

There are several products that will help with treatment and reduce your pain.

Hot/Cold Packs

The first is hot and cold packs. I suggest using a cold pack for twenty minutes after a treatment. Cold therapy reduces irritation caused by the treatment as well as providing pain relief.

I suggest alternating warm packs with cold packs.  Wait at least an hour after applying a cold pack to use a warm pack. Warmth helps relax the muscle which is important and it just feels good!

Cold and warm treatments should not be longer than 20 minutes per treatment. Cold treatments longer than 20 minutes can damage skin and soft tissues. Long warm treatments can promote swelling and increase your pain.

I recommend the Cuerve Hot and Cold Packs. They are well made and can be used for both hot and cold treatments. The large is recommended for rectus abdominis treatment as it will cover all or most of the muscle.

Analgesic Creams and Gels 

Warm and cooling gels are an excellent treatment to help you get through the day. I have two that I highly recommend.

Biofreeze Professional Cooling Gel cools the area much like ice and may help reduce inflammation. Clients like its excellent pain relief that lasts for hours. I recommend this for post-treatment and recent injuries.

Sombra Warming Gel is another client favorite. It warms without the burning on fire feeling of other over-the-counter heating gels. It can be used several times a day and I highly recommend its use before going bed because it helps relieve pain and allows the muscle to relax allowing you to sleep. (not sold in stores)

Do not mix cream or gels or apply one over another as there is a good chance it will blister your skin. If switching products be sure to wash the area thoroughly before applying another cream or gel.

A Back Support That Provides Excellent Abdominal Support

If you work in a job that requires heavy lifting, standing for hours on end, or you have allergies or another medical condition that makes you sneeze or cough a lot, supporting the abdomen and low back can really help with pain relief.

The Professional Choice Back Support is my go-to support for ribcage, abdomen, and low back support. The brace provides warmth to the muscles which helps keep them relaxed and is wide enough to provide support to the abdominal area. The support has the wide main belt and two side belts that allow you to adjust the compression to your comfort level. It is extremely durable, I have one that I have used for over 20 years! A great investment to relieve abdomen and low back pain. (Not sold in stores)

Healing Time

Fortunately, most rectus abdominis trigger points resolve quickly. Most people notice pain reduction and easier movement after just a few treatments. If you are not noticing any improvement after a few days of self-treatment, you need to search for possible satellite trigger points in the muscles listed above. Check-out Muscle Trigger Points and How They Contribute To Muscle and Joint Pain to understand the trigger point phenomenon.


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