Hernia Facts and Fitness Tips

A hernia is a condition wherein an organ or a piece of fatty tissue bulge out through a weak spot in the muscle wall where they are supposed to be contain. It’s a relatively common problem and while generally harmless, can also become uncomfortable and painful.

The majority of hernias are located in the abdomen but the most common type is an inguinal hernia in the groin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of hernia cases is 14.9 for every 1,000 population. In the U.S. alone, there are around 700,000 hernia repairs performed on an annual basis.

Common causes of a hernia

Hernias are usually the result of two factors such as pressure and weakness in the connective tissue or muscle. These may be congenital but can also develop later in life. Consequently, the organs or tissues squeeze through the weak area or ‘opening’ in the abdominal cavity.

Common causes include the following:

  • Obesity
  • Persistent coughing or sneezing
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Overexertion
  • Fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Pregnancy
  • Abdominal tumors or masses
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Abdominal surgery (can lead to an incisional hernia)

The above-mentioned causes are connected to the increase in pressure mostly due to straining. However, poor nutrition and smoking can also contribute to the development of a hernia because both can lead to muscle weakness.

Signs and symptoms

Keep in mind that while it’s also possible for people with hernias not to exhibit any symptom (sometimes, it’s nothing more than a painless swelling), common manifestations can include the following:

  • Pain or any discomfort when coughing, lifting or moving heavy objects, straining, or bending over
  • An obvious bulge in the abdomen or groin which is tender and may disappear when you lie down
  • Feeling of heaviness or fullness in the abdomen
  • Lump may increase in size with added pressure such as standing
  • For a hiatus hernia, there may be upper abdominal pain or heartburn

If there’s nausea, vomiting, pain, and you cannot push the bulge back into the abdomen, it’s time to see a doctor immediately. These are signs of bowel obstruction due to a strangulated hernia. It constitutes an emergency because the blood supply is cut off. Surgery is often required in such cases.

Exercise and fitness tips for people with a hernia

Contrary to what you may think, you can still continue exercising even if you have a hernia. However, you will want to discuss with your doctor how to modify your routine to prevent further injury.

  • Try low-impact workouts and make sure the focus is nowhere near the area where your hernia is located. For example, instead of weightlifting, you can go ahead and do dancing, swimming or water aerobics. You still stay fit but without the additional risk. Crunches are a big no-no since they can exacerbate a hernia.
  • Avoid overexertion or straining. Remember that a common cause of a hernia is lifting heavy objects so going back to your usual strength training might not be the best idea because it can either worsen an existing hernia or allow the development of more hernias.
  • Stop the workout when you’re in pain especially if it’s sudden, sharp or radiating. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of completing a set, don’t push it. This might mean that things took a turn for the worse.
  • Stay away from anything that’s high intensity. If you’re not a huge fan of aerobics, there are still several alternatives like brisk walking.
  • Start slow. A warm-up is always necessary even if you’re only doing low impact exercises. This is to avoid overwhelming your body.

Exercise plays a huge part in keeping yourself healthy and fit. Trimming off that excess weight can have tremendous benefits including less pressure in the abdominal wall and it also decreases your chance of acquiring other health issues such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

A hernia generally presents itself as a painless bulge that doesn’t require surgery. In case you have undergone surgery, however, wearing an adjustable hernia belt can provide support and comfort while you’re in the recovery stage.

The fear that you might do something wrong and therefore make your hernia worse is understandable. This is why before starting any workout routine (whether it’s new or something you’re already used to), talk to your physician because they know your limitations.


Image courtesy of [sippakorn] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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