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Exercise & Hernias

A hernia typically occurs in the abdomen when part of an internal organ protrudes through a weak area of muscle. Straining caused by heavy lifting can cause a hernia. Sports activities such as hockey and tennis may place excess stress on groin muscles, a common location for hernias to form. Certain exercises may help prevent hernias and/or keep an existing hernia from getting worse.

Hernia Considerations

Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia. An inguinal hernia occurs in the lower abdomen in the groin area. Sports-related hernias result from stretching a muscle beyond its limit during the constant twisting and turning of the body at high speeds.

Lifting heavy objects can increase abdominal pressure and the size of an existing hernia. While heavy lifting is often associated with hernias, fewer than 10 percent of hernia patients report a physically strenuous event immediately before diagnosis. The exception to this is workers' comp cases, notes Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Preventing Hernias

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Daily exercises that increase flexibility and promote muscle strength in and around the pelvic area may help prevent hernias. Always bending from the knees rather than the waist while weightlifting or carrying other heavy objects also can help guard against an inguinal hernia. Remember to center your body over your feet as you lift.

Exercise Recommendations

Moderately intense aerobic exercises such as swimming and riding a stationary bike are generally safe as they won't encourage a hernia to bulge outward, but check with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen to make sure the exercises are appropriate for you. The surrounding water pressure during swimming can help control the hernia, while an exercise bike works the large leg muscles without placing undue strain on the abdominal area. Once your doctor approves, aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every other day.

Hernia Treatment

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Contact your doctor right away if you develop any sudden pain in the hernia. Placing an ice pack on a sports hernia several times a day along with anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve discomfort. Hernias that fail to respond to home remedies may require surgery to repair the tear in the muscle wall. Refrain from heavy lifting or straining for six to eight weeks following open or traditional surgery. Patients who undergo laparoscopic hernia repair can usually resume normal activities such as walking up stairs and light lifting as soon as they feel up to it.