Acute abdominal pain
Everyone at some point of their life will experience abdominal pain. Abdominal pain is one of the most complicated symptoms which can be caused by many factors. Most of the causes are not severe and the pain can be diagnosed and treated with good prognosis. However abdominal pain can be a sign of very severe illness. If the abdominal pain is severe or recurrent and there are some other symptoms associated with such as fever, inability to keep food down, signs of dehydration, bloody stools, inability to pass stool and there is persistent nausea and vomiting, painful or unusually frequent urination, severe tenderness when you touch the abdomen, swelling of the abdomen, skin appears yellow, weight loss, pain is caused by injury to the abdomen etc, it is important to recognise the symptoms that are severe and see doctors to get it diagnosed. Be careful if you want to take over the counter pain killer. Pain killers sometimes can mask the severity of the illness. Acupuncture is not recommended for severe acute abdominal pain.
Chronic abdominal pain
Fortunately in most of cases the abdominal pain is not caused by severe illness, but it can be depressing if the abdomen is always painful. There are many problems that can cause abdominal pain.
Smooth muscle is located in the walls of hollow internal organs, such as the arteries, intestines, bladder in the abdomen. When they contract, the organ is squeezed. Most of the abdominal pain is visceral pain which is pain arising from the internal organs. Visceral pain is triggered by smooth muscle distension or contraction, stretching of the capsule surrounding an organ, ischaemia and necrosis, or irritation by chemicals produced during inflammatory processes. If stomach or intestine wall becomes spasm, this may result in pain. So do kidneys, gallbladders and other internal organs. When the uterine smooth muscle becomes spasm, menstrual cramps occur. It is often deep, dull or dragging and is typically diffuse and poorly localised. It can be associated with nauseas, vomiting, and changes in heart rate or blood pressure. It can also evoke strong emotional responses. There can be a referred pain which is pain experienced at a site distant from source of the pain. It is due to the convergence of different afferents on to the same dorsal horn neurones in the spinal cord.
Skeletal muscles are attached to the bones. When the muscle contracts, the related body part moves. As a result, we can move around without problems. The abdominal wall muscles are skeletal muscles which extend from the superior border of the pelvis to the inferior border of the ribcage. There are four pairs of muscles: transverse and rectus abdominis and the internal and external obliques.
Abdominal muscles and chronic abdominal pain
The rectus abdominis muscles
The rectus abdominis muscles are a pair of long flat muscles lie vertically along the middle line of abdomen. Each muscle is divided by narrow bands of tendon into four muscular bodies. It originates from the edge of the pubis bone and thepubic symphysis in the pelvis and ends at the inferior edges of the costal cartilages of the fifth through seventh ribs and at the xiphoid process of the sternum. The rectus sheath is a covering connective tissue surrounding the rectus abdominis muscles where the internal and external oblique muscles attach. The linea alba a thick mass of white fibrous connective tissue is in the mid line of the abdomen and joins the two rectus abdominis together. The important function of rectus abdominis muscles is to flex the spine when they contract. Contraction of the abdomen results in increased pressure within the abdominopelvic cavity and is useful to push substances out of the body during exhalation, defecation, and urination. It helps delivering a baby. If there are trigger points present in these muscles, you could feel the pain at the abdomen, lower and mid back region. The symptoms include pain at the low abdomen, period pain, stomach cramping, heart burn chest pain, indigestion, nauseas, vomiting bloating, genital pain, bladder problem, low and mid back pain etc.
Transverse abdominis muscle
Transverse abdominis muscle is the deepest muscle on the front and side abdominal wall. It lies between the rib cage and pelvic bone. It starts from the back thoracolumbar fascia, from the top inner surface of the lower six ribs, from the bottom front of the iliac crest and inguinal ligament and it ends at the front abdominal midline called linea alba. It is a very important core muscle in compressing the abdomen, providing thoracic and pelvic stability and supporting abdominal visera. It maintains good posture and help to deliver a baby for pregnant women. Trigger points in transverse abdominis could contribute to the abdominal pain and low back pain.
External and internal oblique muscles
The external abdominal oblique muscles are a pair of muscles that lie on the lateral and anterior sides of the abdominal wall. They are broad, thin and on the top layer of the abdominal muscles. They start from ribs 5-12 and end at the midline of the abdomen, pubis and iliac crest of the hip bones. Contraction of this muscle makes lateral bend and rotation of the spine, flexes the spine and also pulls the chest downwards and compress the abdominal cavity.
The internal abdominal oblique muscles lie on the lateral and anterior sides of the abdominal wall just underneath the external abdominal oblique muscles and above the transverse abdominal muscle. It bends the spine forward and bring the shoulder of the side forward and it also bend the spine sideway and rotates it. It compresses abdominal contents and assists digestive process and breathing. If trigger points are present in these muscles, the pain can be felt in following area, in the side, the waist area, the groin area, the low abdomen, across the upper back below shoulder blades, across the low back just above hips, stomach pain, testicle pain, pelvis pain bladder pain.
Chronic abdominal pain may be present for weeks to months, or even years. Acupuncture can help with some chronic abdominal pain such as indigestion, inflammatory bowel diseases or muscular pain, benign ovarian cysts, pain with frequent urination, kidney problem, and muscular pain from the abdominal muscles.
Bloating is a common symptom accompanied with chronic abdominal pain. Most people have experienced this symptom, when the abdomen is stretched, puffy and uncomfortable. The common cause is constipation which is caused by too little fluids and fibers and lack of exercises. Food allergy and intolerance can be caused excess wind production causing bloating. Inflammation in abdomen such as irritable bowel syndrome can lead to bloating. Pain conditions such as low back pain, hip pain, abdominal pain can accompany bloating because of alteration of the nerve activities. Acupuncture can help reduce bloating and chronic abdominal pain.
Chao and Zhang World J Gastroenterol (2014) 20:1871-1877
Shi ZM et al Zhongguo Zhen Jiu (2011) 31:607-9
Welcome to my blog, discover acupuncture with Dr Maggie Ju
Qualified as a medical doctor in Western medicine in China with a Medical degree from Beijing, China and a PhD degree from the UK. Many year research and clinical experiences. This blog is for information only.
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