Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain: An Under-Recognized Diagnosis Leading to Unnecessary Testing

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Abstract

Chronic abdominal wall pain (CAWP) refers to a condition wherein pain originates from the abdominal wall itself rather than the underlying viscera. According to various estimates, 10% to 30% of patients with chronic abdominal pain are eventually diagnosed with CAWP, usually after expensive testing has failed to uncover another etiology. The most common cause of CAWP is anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome. The diagnosis of CAWP is made using an oft-forgotten physical examination finding known as Carnett’s sign, where focal abdominal tenderness is either the same or worsened during contraction of the abdominal musculature. CAWP can be confirmed by response to trigger point injection of local anesthetic. Once diagnosis is made, treatment ranges from conservative management to trigger point injection and in refractory cases, even surgery. This review provides an overview of CAWP, discusses the cost and implications of a missed diagnosis, compares somatic versus visceral innervation, describes the pathophysiology of nerve entrapment, and reviews the evidence behind available treatment modalities.

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