How Sore Abs Mess With Your Mind

Alright so if you’re a lifter feel free to laugh at me, because you should, But getting (catching?) sore abs messes with my head and somehow always seems to catch me by surprise. You can tell me that lifting weights is the best cross training for runners and you’d be right but I still prefer biking, swimming and lugging stuff at work. But every once and a while I accidentally do a great big ab workout, don’t realize it and then freak out about my ‘symptoms’ and you know live through it every single time. But… I’m probably not the only one in this boat so let’s dig into it a bit further. How do we get sore abs, why does it make us think we’re dying and how do we deal with that.

What makes our (my) abs sore

There are a few scenarios that turned out to just be sore abs at the end of the day. One was definitely the obstacles at Mud Hero this year. Another time it was gardening and yet another shoveling gravel. I however feel that I have decent abdominal strength because things that are supposed to work your abs like certain dynamic yoga poses, lots of coughing and paddle boarding (even 12 km) on the open ocean doesn’t seem to phase me. So needless to say sore abs tend to always sneak up on me.

I find it’s activities that mimic lifting weights, go figure right? Lots of activities can give you sore abs things like shoveling, moving heavy objects, a bad lingering cough or even cleaning something like waxing a car can make you sore. So can carrying a heavy backpack of child. If you don’t have much core strength to begin with less strenuous activities like walking or light cleaning can lead to abdominal soreness if done for longer periods of time. 

Of course not every bout of muscle soreness feels the same given the size of the muscle group. If your lower abs are sore it feels a lot different than if your upper abs are sore. Ditto for the obliques. The fact that every bout of unexpected soreness can and does feel different only adds to the freak out factor.

Am I dying?

Here’s the thing sore abs can masquerade as many different conditions including but not limited to:

Lower abs:

  • Period cramps
  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones
  • Bladder infections


  • Appendicitis
  • Crohn’s Flare up
  • Rib injury

Upper abs:

  • Sternum injury
  • Lung pain
  • Liver issues
  • Ulcers
  • Heart pain
  • Rib injury 

If you have and underlying medical issue that you’re worried about or just anxious about contracting then ab pain all of a sudden feels just like that. I know this sounds dramatic but a bad bout of unexpected abdominal soreness can be intense and intensely unsettling. You can easily start to think “I didn’t do anything that serious, something must be wrong.” Plus it can actually get worse over a couple of days with delayed onset muscle soreness which some people claim as a medical issue but I think it’s just part of the human condition. Full disclosure here unexpectedly sore abs leads me to spend a lot of time in the bathroom just ‘trying’. Even though I don’t freak out anymore the feeling still messes with my mind. I have or do suffer with cramps, digestive issues and a fractured rib and all those things feel do have a lot in common with just plain old sore abs. Sometimes it’s even indistinguishable.

How to deal

First ask yourself did I do anything that might lead me to just have bad ab soreness. Did you do something totally new for you in the last few days. If not did you do something fairly regular for a long, long time like stacking wood, lots of chopping, clean the entire house or shovel really heavy snow? If no on that front too a persistent cough (did you sort of choke and cough a lot or are your sick?) Or throwing up or sneezing can actually give you sore abs too. If you check yes on one or more of these boxes then you probably have sore abs.

In my experience it can be really hard to tell the difference between muscle soreness and a serious issue. However there are some harbingers of sore abs. One is it hurts badly for a couple of days and by then it’s at least getting better. Another is that it hurts more after you’ve been still and get moving again. As you move around it gets better. It also doesn’t get suddenly worse. If you’re completely still, lying down holding your breath it will seem to go away. Of course if this doesn’t seem to match you symptoms or you’re concerned the bast option is to have doctor check you out.

Truthfully there isn’t a whole lot you can do to make it better. A hot compress does help as will very, very gently exercise and stretches. Both will help to move the lactic acid out of your muscles a little faster. Think non extreme yoga poses and an easy walk. Now is not the time to go for anything else that will tax your abs. You might find some relief massaging the area too. Overall you’ll just have to wait it out. For me it’s sore the next day, more sore the day after that and is well on it’s way out the third day after the offending activity.

Since I’ve though is it just sore abs or is something really wrong with me on several occasions I figured I wasn’t alone. Has abdominal soreness ever snuck up on you? If so what medical condition did you convince yourself you had?

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