Health Information

Abdominal rigidity

Abdominal rigidity


Rigidity of the abdomen

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

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • 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
  • 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
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    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.

Related Information

  Nausea and vomitin...Abdominal painSwelling    


Mcquaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 134.

Squires RA, Postier RG. Acute abdomen.In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 47.



Review Date: 10/14/2012  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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