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.