What is Abdominal Guarding?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Abdominal guarding is a defense mechanism of the body that involves tensing the muscles found in the abdominal area. This action of tensing is a means of protecting the internal organs from any perceived threat of harm. The process of guarding may occur as part of the body’s fight or flight preparation when danger is considered imminent, as well as when the internal organs are inflamed in some manner and must be protected from outside pressure.

The abdominal guarding wall muscles are designed to respond quickly when there is any sense of danger to the middle section of the body. For example, this reflex action would automatically trigger if the individual believed he or she was about to receive a blow to the midsection. The idea behind this type of abdominal guard action is to allow the muscles to absorb the shock of the blow, leaving the vulnerable organs within the abdominal cavity relatively unaffected.


While abdominal guarding often takes place as a means of protecting the internal organs from being injured in some manner, this mechanism also serves to protect those same organs in the event there is some type of infection or disease present in those organs. For example, the abdominal muscles would tense in the event that the appendix is inflamed and swollen, in an effort to prevent some outside movement or force from hastening the rupture of that organ. At the same time, the guarding also helps to minimize the chances of more pain developing, due to outside pressures.

Physicians are well aware of the phenomenon of abdominal guarding. When examining a patient who is experiencing pain the mid-section, he or she will be aware of the tensing and sometimes spasmodic activity of the abdominal muscles. Depending on the severity of the tensing, it may be necessary to administer medication to help the muscles relax before it is possible to examine the patient further. However, some patients find that the reality of being examined by a caregiver helps the mind to relax, and in turn has a calming influence on abdominal muscle activity as well.

It is important to note that all human beings experience abdominal guarding. While it may be more apparent in someone with well-developed abdominal muscles, the action takes place even among people who are carrying extra weight around the middle. Trained physicians can easily identify the abdominal pain guarding on any body type, assess the degree of tensing, and take appropriate steps to relax the muscles during the progress of the examination.


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Post 5

What are the different types of guarding?

Post 4

I find it interesting that a physician can easily determine abdominal guarding on every body type. I never realized they could take steps to help your abdominal muscles relax during an exam. This would certainly make the exam easier for them and more comfortable for the patient. As much as I try to stay relaxed, I also feel my abdominal muscles tense up once they start being pushed and poked.

Post 3

I don't like going to the doctor and any time I have any kind of physical exam that somehow involves my abdomen, I will tense those muscles. I am already nervous even before I go to the doctor, and become even more so once the exam starts.

They always tell me to try and relax my muscles, but that even seems to make me more nervous. I know it makes their job a lot easier if I can, but find it very hard to do. I have never been to the point where they have had to give me something to help me relax, but that doesn't sound like a bad idea to me.

Post 2

I have had more than one abdominal surgery and know what it is like to guard my abdomen. I found that I did this just as much the weeks following my surgeries as I did before.

Because of the abdominal muscle pain and tenderness after the surgery, I would find myself instinctively guarding my abdomen if I felt like I was going to sneeze or cough. I also tried not to laugh very much, as this would cause me to do the same thing.

Once everything was healed up, I didn't do this any more, but sometimes that took several weeks. When I see someone else guarding their abdomen, I know exactly what they are feeling like.

Post 1

I know what abdominal pain and bloating feels like because I experienced this before I had my appendix removed. The right side of my abdomen was very sore because of my inflamed and ruptured appendix internally.

Before I went to the hospital, I found myself physically guarding my right side in an effort to protect it from further pain. This may or not have done any good at this point, but at least it made me feel a little bit better thinking I was trying to keep it from even more pain.

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