A hernia is a hole in the abdomen or muscle, occurring when part of an internal organ protrudes through the wall of the muscle where it is contained. Usually, they occur in the abdomen and groin and present as bulges at the navel, abdomen, or along scars from previous surgical procedures. This condition is known as an inguinal hernia and affects more than a half-million Americans every year.
Sports hernias are also commonly referred to, but the name is somewhat misleading. “Sports hernias are a different pathology,” said Christopher Schneider, MD, a trauma surgeon, general surgeon and hernia specialist with Kettering Medical Center. “They’re not really hernias at all. The word ‘hernia’ means ‘hole,’ but what is referred to as a ‘sports hernia’ is really a torn muscle.”
Here are five things you can do to help prevent an inguinal hernia.
1. Use proper lifting techniques. Whether you are an athlete or have a job that requires heavy lifting, you are at risk of an inguinal hernia every time you pick up something. Using proper lifting techniques can minimize risk and decrease fatigue.
Lift an appropriate amount of weight. If the load is too heavy, get help, use a hand truck or forklift, or reduce the weight. Always bend from your knees, not your waist. Lift using the muscles of your legs with a straight back and proper support over your ankles.
For athletic lifters, warm up with light dumbbells or barbells before any heavy lifting. If you are doing a barbell exercise, always start with a set using just the bar to get your blood pumping and warm up your muscles.
Avoid rushing, and lift weight slowly—this ensures your body is properly aligned, and you have taken the proper steps beforehand. If you feel pain, stop! Pain means something is not right, so you should stop before injuring yourself.
2. Maintain a recommended healthy body weight. Excessive body weight can put tremendous pressure on the abdominal wall, causing it to weaken over time. “Being overweight can increase your risk of inguinal hernia,” said Dr. Schneider.
Whenever you stand or move, the walls surrounding the abdomen are constantly under pressure from excess body fat. Being overweight can also put more stress on other muscle groups during movement and exercise. While maintaining a recommended healthy body weight seems easier said than done, your doctor can recommend dietary changes and exercise routines right for you.
3. Increase core strength. If you do any type of exercise, you probably hear a great deal about core strength. Put simply, your “core” refers to the major muscles of the pelvic and abdominal region, such as the pelvic floor and external oblique muscles, and minor muscles, gluteus maximus and trapezius. Increasing core strength has a multitude of benefits in helping to prevent a hernia.
Regular core-strengthening exercise will strengthen the muscles surrounding your abdomen and groin and help them stay strong and elastic. One of the best core-strengthening exercises is the plank. A basic plank is like the beginning of a push up, but you just hold yourself up on your arms or elbows. It also can be done on your side. Talk to your doctor about what core exercises might be right for you.
4. Control diabetes. Dr. Schneider says controlling diabetes is also important in hernia prevention. According to recent studies, there is an increasing concern about the success of ventral and umbilical hernia repair in diabetic women. Studies suggest diabetes increases the risk of complications following the repair of a ventral (surgical scar site) or umbilical (at the navel or belly button) hernia surgery. Results of the studies indicated a higher rate of complications among those who were insulin dependent.
You should follow your physician’s orders for controlling your diabetes with the proper medications. You can also improve your glucose levels through better meal planning, consuming lower-calorie foods and reducing intake of trans fat, sugar, and salt. Using whole grain cereals, breads, rice and pasta can also help.
5. Quit smoking. If you smoke, you could be contributing to a potential hernia. Smokers and those with COPD or similar diseases caused by tobacco use are plagued by continued, violent coughing that can contribute to hernia development. Quitting will also help decrease your risk of all manner of cancer and other diseases.
If you are already facing the challenge of a hernia, the Kettering Health Network Hernia Care team can create an individual treatment plan for you to obtain the best long-term results from your surgery. Click here to request an appointment with a Kettering Health Network hernia specialist.