Injury Breakdown: A Critique Of The Oblique

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by Abby Sims

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, a switch-hitter, is reportedly expected to return to the lineup today after missing the series against Florida in San Juan and the end of the road-trip in Washington. Reyes is said to be out with a right internal oblique strain that he first noted during batting practice last Wednesday. Fortunately for the Mets, another of their switch-hitters, outfielder Angel Pagan, was back on the field last Friday after missing only two starts due to soreness in his right side. Pagan also first noticed his pain while at bat after fouling off a pitch.

What are the Internal Obliques and why is Reyes planning to bat righty against a right-hander?

The Internal Obliques are one of several muscles that comprise the abdominals. They have several points of attachment – at the low back and pelvis, and running diagonally up to the base of the front of the lower ribs and midline of the abdominal group. The diagonal orientation of the internal obliques is key to understanding their function. When they contract (shorten), the internal obliques act to side-bend and rotate the torso toward the same side. In other words, if Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan were to bat left-handed, their right internal obliques would be forced to contract forcefully to rotate the trunk to the right as they move into the swing and follow-through. Since the muscle is already sore due to a strain, this would aggravate the condition. Reyes’ solution for now? Bat only from the right side so that the right internal obliques don’t have to kick into high gear. Of course, that is only part of the answer, as he continues to undergo treatment.

 

Another important function of the internal obliques is to assist in respiration (breathing). They work when we exhale (breathe out) to push the organs up, thereby forcing air from the lungs.

What are the other abdominal muscles?

The External Obliques

If there is an internal (inner) oblique, it means that there must also be an external (outer) oblique. And so there is… Lying just above the inner layer are the external obliques, which basically have the opposite functions. The external obliques also run on a diagonal, but they are aligned perpendicularly to their more internal counterpart. These muscles assist in side-bending and rotating the trunk toward the opposite side. That means that the right external obliques take over to swivel the trunk to the left when a batter bats right-handed. They also serve a role in respiration to assist with inspiration (breathing in) by pulling the chest downward and compressing the abdominal area to allow for expansion of the lungs with air.

Because they have opposite functions with respect to side-bending, when either the external or internal obliques of each side contract together, they simply aid in flexing the trunk forward. When you do diagonal crunches for strengthening, you are trying to isolate your obliques. By bringing your right shoulder toward your left hip, you are emphasizing your right external and left internal oblique muscles.

Transversus Abdominus

This is the innermost layer of the abdominal muscles. The fibers of this muscle run (more-or-less) horizontally to wrap the front and sides of the torso. It is thought to act as a supportive sling and is likened to a natural weight belt.

Rectus Abdominus

These are the muscles most commonly thought of when you picture the abdominals. They are the most visible group and the ones you work on to get that six-pack you long for. The rectus, located at the front of the abdominals, runs vertically. The upper end of the muscle is responsible for flexing the trunk forward as well as stabilizing the trunk as the arms are moving. The lower portion of the rectus acts to flex the pelvis toward the torso and to stabilize the trunk as the legs are moving. The lower portion tends to be weaker than the uppermost section and so including it in your core program is recommended.

All the muscles of the core serve as stabilizers. They are crucial to all movement to protect the low back from excess demand that can cause injury. In addition to strains from overuse, the abdominals can be stressed due to the explosive motion involved in batting and even in throwing. Another common abdominal injury in sports is the sports hernia. This will be addressed in a later column.

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Abby Sims is an orthopedic and sports physical therapist who has been in private practice in NYC for the past 30 years (you may be familiar with her husband, sportscaster & WFAN alum Dave Sims). Abby has a Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from Duke University and has extensive experience working with professional, collegiate and recreational athletes with musculoskeletal injuries – both non-operative and operative. She has also enjoyed lecturing at many medical conferences. Abby looks forward to responding to your questions or writing about topics that you suggest. For more information about Abby, or her practice, please check out www.RecoveryPT.com as well as www.AthletiSense.com.

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