Definition

Abdominal rigidity is stiffness of the muscles in the belly area, which can be felt when touched or pressed.

Alternative Names

Rigidity of the abdomen

Considerations

When there is a sore area inside the belly or abdomen, the pain will get worse when a hand presses against your belly area.

Your fear or nervousness about being touched (palpated) may cause this symptom, but there should be no pain.

If you have pain when you are touched and you tighten the muscles to “guard” against more pain, it is more likely caused by a physical condition inside your body. The condition may affect one or both sides of your body.

Abdominal rigidity may occur along with:

  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting

Common Causes

  • Abscess inside the abdomen
  • Appendicitis
  • Cholecystitis caused by gallstones
  • Hole that develops through the entire wall of the stomach, small intestine, large bowel, or gallbladder (gastrointestinal perforation)
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Peritonitis

Call your health care provider if

Immediate medical care is needed if you have pain when the belly is gently pressed and then released.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

You will probably be seen in an emergency room.

The health care provider will exam you. This may include a pelvic and possibly a rectal exam.

The health care provider will ask questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • When did they first start?
  • What other symptoms do you have at the same time? For example, do you have abdominal pain?

Diagnostic tests that may be done include:

  • Barium studies of the stomach and intestines (such as an upper GI series)
  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Gastroscopy
  • Peritoneal lavage
  • Stool studies
  • Urine tests
  • X-ray of the abdomen
  • X-ray of the chest

You will probably not be given any pain relievers until a diagnosis is made. Pain relievers can hide your symptoms.

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