Hernias are relatively common and can affect many men, women, and children at any time in their life. Hernias may arise due to a variety of circumstances. A hernia occurs as a result of a weakening in the abdominal tissues and muscles. This may cause an organ or fatty tissues to slip through the small tear which may result in abdominal pain, other digestive issues, or even be asymptomatic, meaning, not present any symptoms initially.
Often a hernia occurs in between the chest and hips or lower abdomen. However, they may also appear in the upper thigh or even in your groin.
Most hernias are not immediately life-threatening. They typically do not resolve on their own and do require medical attention to diagnose and to treat. Unfortunately, there are times when surgery will be required in order to prevent any life-threatening side-effects.
Symptoms of a Hernia
One of the most common side-effects of a hernia is the presence of a slight lump at the site of pain or in the affected area. For example, inguinal hernias typically present a lump or bulge on either side of the pubic bone at the site where the groin and thigh meet.
It is more common to feel the bulge when you are standing, coughing, or bending over. Often, discomfort and pain will be felt at the site of the hernia. Depending on the type of hernia you have, the symptoms may vary. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Bulge or lump in the groin, scrotum, or noticeable swelling in the scrotum.
- Pain or discomfort in the groin or abdomen that worsens if you bend over or lift anything
- A feeling of heaviness in the groin or abdomen
- Discomfort or pain during bowel movements or urination
- Abdominal pain, discomfort, or swelling at the end of the day, especially if you were standing most of the day.
In severe cases, a strangulated hernia (a hernia which cuts off the blood supply to the intestines and abdomen), may present symptoms of fever, vomiting, nausea, and severe cramping. If this is the case, you will need to seek immediate medical attention to prevent life-threatening complications.
In many cases, however, a hernia may never present any of the above symptoms. In many cases, a hernia is noticed during a routine medical evaluation or physical or during a check up for an unrelated issue.
What is Hernia Pain Like?
Hernia pain is often described as a mild discomfort, aching, or a sensation of fullness or pressure at the site of the hernia. This discomfort or pain may increase with activity, exercise, or any lifting that may place a strain on the abdomen (i.e. running, heavy lifting, or bearing down during bowel movements). Others may not feel any pain or discomfort for some time.
Does a Hernia Cause Stomach Pain?
In severe cases, the contents of the hernia may become twisted or trapped in the torn muscle in the abdominal wall. This can obstruct the bowels leading to severe stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and may lead to the inability to have a bowel movement or flatulate. This is known as a hernia strangulation and cuts the blood flow to part of your intestines. As mentioned above, this can be a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. You should consult your doctor if you believe you have a hernia. They can provide medical advice, diagnosis, and look for a strangulation.
What Causes Hernias?
A hernia is often the result of compromised abdominal muscle and tissue strength. This may arise due to excessive straining of the abdominal muscles, improper loading during weight lifting, or a variety of other scenarios. At times, a hernia will develop slowly while others may arise abruptly.
Some of the more common causes of a weakened abdominal wall include:
- a congenital condition that occurs during development in the womb and is present from birth
- Surgery treating a previous injury, injury
- chronic cough or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
- smoking (can weaken the abdominal wall)
- improperly engaging in strenuous exercise or lifting heavy weights
- pregnancy, especially having multiple pregnancies
- chronic constipation, excessive strain during bowel movements
- fluid in the abdomen, or ascites
If you are experiencing abdominal weakness due to any of the above, this may put you at a higher risk of developing a hernia.
Types of Hernias
There are many types of hernias. Below we will address some of the most common types of hernias.
Inguinal hernias occur when fatty tissues or parts of your organs (namely the intestines), protrude through a weakened spot in the abdominal wall. This may cause a bulge in your abdomen that may or may not be painful. If pain is present, it will most likely be more noticeable when you cough, bend over, or lift any heavy objects. An inguinal hernia is not life-threatening and isn't necessarily dangerous.
Hiatal hernias occur when part of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into your chest cavity. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that allows your lungs to draw air into them and separates your abdomen from the organs in your chest.
Hiatal hernias often cause gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux) and may cause a burning sensation in your chest or esophagus. Hiatal hernias are more common in people 50 years of age or older.
Umbilical hernias are more common in children and newborns, but may affect older men and women as well. Umbilical hernias typically create a soft swelling or bulge near the belly button. This occurs when a section of the intestine protrudes through the umbilical opening in the abdomen. These hernias are typically painless and often resolve on their own as the abdominal wall continues to develop.
Adults may experience an umbilical hernia as a result of excess strain on the abdominals due to pregnancy, fluid in the abdomen (ascites), or other abdominal complications such as diastasis recti.
A ventral hernia often occurs when tissues bulge through the abdominal cavity. These can occur at any location in the abdominal wall and are often considered an incisional hernia as well. An incisional or ventral hernia, often forms at the site of a past abdominal surgery where the muscles and tissues have become compromised.
A ventral hernia may also be present at birth, but often occur later in life. Common factors of ventral hernias include things like obesity, pregnancy, or strenuous activities.
Hernias During Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and believe you may have a hernia, it is best to see a doctor to discuss your options. They'll be able to evaluate it and determine if it poses any health risks during your pregnancy.
Often, hernia repair can wait until after the delivery. If you notice a hernia growing or causing pain, your doctor will be able to give you proper advice, diagnosis, or treatment options.
In some cases, previous hernias may recur due to the strain and pressure the growing child may place on the abdominal wall. It is also possible for an incisional hernia to arise as a result of a cesarean delivery.
Recovering from a hernia often, but not always includes some form of surgical procedure. It is less common for a hernia to resolve on its own, but surgery may be postponed if it doesn't pose any complications or health risks.
Depending on the type of hernia you have, various supplements or supportive measures may be put in place to prevent the hernia from getting worse or to help treat symptoms.
Your doctor may request for you to come in for checkups in order to monitor the hernia. This is called watchful waiting.
In other cases, a truss may be used to help give your abdomen additional support and help alleviate some of the pain you may be experiencing.
If you have a hiatal hernia, antacids or other prescription medications may be prescribed to reduce acid reflux and discomfort.
How Do You Fix a Hernia?
As mentioned previously, a hernia is usually only fixed with surgery. However, some studies have shown that exercise may help reduce any post-surgery complications. We have had clients close their umbilical hernias using RYC® but it is less common. Prehabilitation is an effective way to begin healing the muscles in your abdomen and may help prevent future complications.
However, it is important to remember that certain exercises may further compromise abdominal health. At Restore Your Core we offer a variety of restorative exercise and rehabilitation programs for those suffering from compromised abdominal health. To learn more about Restore Your Core and our programs, visit our learn hub.