Abdominal wall injury

Last revised by Joachim Feger on 10 Dec 2021

Abdominal wall injuries comprise a set of injuries of the abdominal wall and include different forms of muscle injuries, traumatic hernias and injuries to the subcutaneous tissue.  They are often overshadowed by the attention to associated “more severe” abdominal visceral injuries.

Non-penetrating abdominal wall injuries are more common than lacerations or stab wounds and are seen in patients suffering from blunt abdominal trauma in about 9% 1.

Sports or behavioral patterns that increase the likelihood of sustaining an abdominal wall injury include:

  • football (soccer)
  • rugby / American football
  • martial arts/wrestling
  • motorsports

The main symptom will be abdominal pain and history will often reveal the mechanism of injury frequently a blunt and less often a penetrating abdominal trauma. The physical examination might reveal skin discolouration or ecchymosis in case of blunt trauma or a laceration, stab or gunshot wound in case of penetrating trauma. Other findings include a soft tissue mass or bulge. Typical seat belt injuries should raise the concern for traumatic abdominal wall hernias 2.

Complications of abdominal wall injuries differ with the type of injury and include 1:

  • hematoma formation
  • skin or muscle necrosis
  • infection
  • myositis ossificans
  • incarceration or strangulation (in case of traumatic hernias)

The most common mechanisms of non-penetrating abdominal wall injuries are direct impact with an elevation in intraabdominal pressure or a shearing injury caused by a collision e.g. in a road traffic accident or during a fall 1. Penetrating injuries involve a piercing or slashing mechanism.

Abdominal wall injuries can be classified based on type and location into the following 1:

Abdominal wall injuries can be depicted and assessed with ultrasound, CT and MRI and their appearance will vary with the type of injury. Acute injuries will be probably most frequently evaluated in CT in an emergency after blunt abdominal injury.

Muscular hematoma (e.g. rectus sheath hematoma) will appear as spindle-shaped or spherical muscular swelling in the affected abdominal muscle.

Muscle contusions or muscle strains will typically show fluid-signal along and around the muscle fibers.

Stab wounds and wounds from projectiles might show fluid, air and dirt along the wound track or trajectory.  

Traumatic abdominal wall hernias usually occur at various weak spots of the abdominal wall most frequent are lumbar hernias affecting the inferior lumbar triangle. Spigelian hernias can also occur in a traumatic event and rarely there are trans-diaphragmatic intercostal hernias.

Morel-Lavallée lesions affect mostly the subcutaneous tissue.

Similar to the other cross-sectional imaging modalities ultrasound can be used for all types of abdominal wall injuries and is used best for hematomas, muscle injuries and Morel-Lavallée lesions.

Nowadays CT will be often the first-line modality for the workup of penetrating but also non-penetrating abdominal wall injuries also due to its capability of fast and comprehensive imaging of associated vascular, visceral and osseous injuries 1.  Besides, CT is highly sensitive in the detection of traumatic abdominal hernias.

Due to superior soft-tissue characterization abilities MRI can depict and characterize abdominal wall injuries. However, in an emergency, it will be hardly needed due to its long examination time and might be even contraindicated in penetrating abdominal wall injuries.

MRI is considered the modality of choice in the workup and classification of Morel-Lavallée lesions 1 and the preferred imaging technique in the workup of an acute groin injury.

The radiological report should include a description of the following:

  • type of the abdominal wall injury
  • location and extent of the lesion
  • signs of active bleeding
  • associated injuries (especially vascular, visceral injuries and associated fractures)

Treatment will depend on the type and extent of the injury.

Most muscle contusions, hematoma or muscle strains can be managed conservatively with rest and pain control. In some larger hematomas, patients might need a blood transfusion because of blood loss. A smaller percentage of rectus sheath hematomas with active bleeding might require surgery or endovascular treatment. In acute groin injuries affecting the rectus abdominis insertion surgery will probably be considered 1.

Traumatic abdominal wall hernias may require surgery either as primary closure or with a mesh repair. Surgery might be done simultaneously for other trauma-related intraabdominal injuries or at a later stage 1.

Treatment strategies for Morel-Lavallée lesions vary significantly, options include compression, aspiration, surgical evacuation and debridement and sclerotherapy. Surgical intervention is recommended in the setting of an underlying fracture or complications as skin necrosis or infection 1.

The differential diagnosis of abdominal wall injuries includes the following:

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads

Cases and figures

  • Case 1: hematoma
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 2: hematoma - US
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 3: injury and cellulitis after liposuction
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 4: hematoma
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 5: TAWH
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

     Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

     Thank you for updating your details.