Can I exercise if I have a hernia?
Can exercise or activity cause a problem or make hernias worse?
The quandary about exercise:
First, find out if you have a hernia. The only way to really know is to see a hernia surgeon. We have over 20 years of experience treating hernias and we can tell you if you have a hernia or not. Many people think they have a hernia, or have been told they have a hernia, when in fact, they do not. Conversely, many patients have been told that they do not have a hernia, when in fact they do. The only way to know conclusively is by the evaluation of a hernia surgeon.
Now, if you do have a hernia, the subject of whether it is safe to exercise is somewhat controversial. The ability to exercise or perform any type of strenuous activity without causing a complication of a hernia, or without making it worse depends on many factors. Factors such as the size of the hernia, the location of the hernia, the type of hernia, what may be contained in the hernia, and your overall physical condition, can all contribute to the relative safety or danger of exercise.
With a known hernia, you will always be taking a risk of making the hernia worse, and potentially causing an emergency situation, possibly requiring urgent or emergent surgery. Hernias will not heal or resolve on their own. And the only treatment is surgery. There are three main reasons to have a hernia repaired.
They will not heal on their own, and the longer you wait, the bigger it will become.
The bigger it gets, the harder it is to repair. The surgery becomes more complicated, takes longer to perform, has higher risk of complications, and takes longer to recover from.
The bigger a hernia becomes, the higher the risk of getting something important (intestines or organs) protruding through the defect, and therefore increasing the risk of damaging those organs or intestines. Even with emergency surgery, damage to organs or intestines can cause life-threatening sepsis or death.
So, the first step is to have a consultation with an experienced hernia surgeon, like us at AHS, to find out if you do have a hernia. If you do, we will educate you as to the type of hernia, thoroughly explain all of your options for treatment, and we can then properly advise you with regard to your individual risk related to particular activities and exercise. After you have surgery, we will help you get back to all of the activities and exercises you love as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we recommend that you avoid all heavy lifting or strenuous activity. Avoid any activities that cause you to tighten your core muscles or abdominal muscles (weightlifting, abdominal crunches, sit-ups, etc.). Tightening or contracting your core or abdominal muscles increases your intra-abdominal pressure, and it is this pressure that pushes out on the abdominal wall. If there is a defect (or hole) in the abdominal wall, then pressure is focused at this defect and that pressure will force out tissues, intestines, or organs from the inside to the outside. The more things that are forced out, the higher the risk that those tissues, intestines, or organs can be damaged. Light exercise, like walking or swimming, may be relatively safe for some hernias, but only after a proper evaluation will we be able to advise you.
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