Doubling over in abdominal pain when you cough? Sensing a dragging, heavy feeling in your abdomen? Chances are you might have a hernia that requires medical attention.
What is a hernia?
A hernia is essentially the protrusion of an organ like the stomach or intestines through the wall of tissue meant to keep it in place. A range of hernias exist, however, the most common, called an inguinal hernia, will often result in a visible bulge in the lower abdomen, upper thigh, or groin. This lump may be able to be pushed back in and sustained with abdominal hernia belts however symptoms may accompany it including burning, aching, and pain at the site of the hernia as well as weakness, heaviness, and discomfort when bending over or coughing.
What causes a hernia?
Before attempting exercise with a hernia, it’s important to understand the risk factors which caused it in the first place. Most commonly, hernias result from a combination or weakened tissue in or around the abdomen and exertion, like with lifting something heavy or chronically coughing.
The strain on the abdomen from pulling or lifting heavy loads can tear vulnerable tissues and allow the intestines to pop through. Normally this might simply require time and monitoring to prevent further injury, however, in some cases the loop of intestines can get strangulated, cutting off blood flow and leading to permanent tissue damage. Exacerbating a hernia with strenuous exercises will do more harm than good and can result in life-threatening complications.
Can I exercise with a hernia?
Talk with your doctor about fitness and managing your hernia prior to attempting any exercise routine, however, know that a hernia doesn’t have to sideline any and all physical activity. Low-impact exercises that don’t require lifting weights and which don’t specifically engage the site of your hernia and surrounding muscles are a good idea.
Water-based activities like pool running or water aerobics are smart and weightless alternatives to high-impact running or soccer for example, while walking, dancing, or riding a recumbent bike can also provide a pain-free exercise experience to keep your health and fitness goals on track.
In addition to avoiding lifting weight, people with abdominal hernias should skip exercises which target strain to the abdomen, like crunches, some yoga positions, and HIIT (high intensity interval training). After your hernia is healed, you can work towards re-strengthening abdominal walls to prevent future hernias with core exercises, stretching, and weight-lifting.
What other considerations should I keep in mind?
Daily aerobic exercise plays a critical role in helping you keep off unwanted weight and lowering risk for ailments including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Don’t let a hernia keep you from staying active and become your reason for gaining weight. The larger your waistline grows, the worse a hernia can grow, and the harder it will be for surgeons to successfully repair it (if surgical intervention is required).
Sitting and standing positions during physical activity which relax the abdominal muscles are going to take it the easiest on an abdominal hernia. Bending, stooping, and hunching postures on the flipside can cause moderate to severe pain and potentially worsen an existing hernia.
Don’t ignore pain when it comes to exercising with a hernia. Sudden, sharp pain at the hernia site as well as radiating pain which comes and goes can indicate complications with your hernia like incarceration or strangulation. See a doctor right away if you develop painful symptoms or see a dark discoloration of the hernia bulge.
Men develop abdominal hernias far more than women and most often when not in great shape and attempting to move, push, pull, or lift something heavy. If you like to lift weights but are afraid of developing a hernia, don’t fret. Lifting when done with proper technique can actually help strengthen abdominal walls to prevent hernias, as can dynamic warm-ups and knowing your limits to avoid injury. Sync up with a knowledgeable instructor or personal trainer to tackle the best technique and form for lifting weights that won’t result in a hernia.