Hernias happen when an internal part of your body (eg part of your intestines) pushes through a weak point in the muscle or tissue that keeps it in place. They typically occur in the area between your chest and hips, but they can also happen in your groin or upper thigh area. You therefore might notice a swelling or lump in your abdomen or groin.
In most cases, hernias aren’t life-threatening, but they don’t go away on their own. You might be able to push the lump back in, or it might disappear when you lie down. However, hernia surgery is usually needed to resolve your hernia and avoid potentially dangerous complications.
There are several different types of hernia, including inguinal, umbilical, hiatus and femoral; inguinal hernias are the most common. Symptoms vary between these hernias, as well as with their severity.
There are several ways you can reduce your risk of developing a hernia. These aim to decrease the strain that you put on your body. Here are five approaches to consider:
Lifting things that are too heavy can affect your physical health in a number of ways. As well as the risk to your back and muscles, regularly lifting heavy loads can increase your risk of a hernia.
This is because when you strain your body to lift something heavy, you increase the chances of an organ pushing through a weak point. This is more likely if your muscles are weakened in certain areas.
It’s therefore a good idea to only carry things that you can manage without strain or pain, and to get help with heavier items. It’s also important to make sure that you lift correctly to reduce the strain on your abdomen. You can do this by keeping your back straight, bending your knees and using your leg muscles to bear the load.
While many abdominal surgeries are unavoidable and critical for your health, they may increase your risk of developing a hernia. This is because cuts through your muscles can create weak points even after your muscles have healed.
You should never avoid surgery purely to reduce your hernia risk, but it’s important to prepare properly for every surgery. This could mean losing excess weight, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, exercising to build muscle strength and stopping smoking.
Ensuring you’re as healthy as possible before surgery can reduce your chances of developing a hernia later in life.
Avoiding unnecessary strain on your body is important for reducing your risk of a hernia. Repeatedly straining to go to the toilet can increase your risk of a hernia, so it’s a good idea to do what you can to prevent constipation.
Eating a diet rich in fibre can help with this, making it easier to pass stools and reducing your need to strain. High-fibre foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oats, lentils, beans and chickpeas.
If you’re having ongoing issues with constipation, talk to your GP as this could be a sign of a serious underlying health problem.
Other health problems that increase strain on your body can also increase your risk of developing a hernia. These include persistent coughs and sneezing, problems urinating and excessive weight gain.
It’s important to speak to your GP if you’re experiencing any of these health problems on an ongoing basis. As well as increasing your risk of a hernia, they could also be a sign of a serious underlying health issue, so make sure that you seek medical advice early and never ignore these symptoms.
Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is another important way to reduce your risk of developing a hernia. As hernias usually occur in the abdomen or groin, exercises to maintain or improve muscle strength in these areas will help reduce your risk, as well as improve your overall health.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go to the gym regularly or take part in very strenuous exercise. Gentle exercises at home practised frequently, can improve your muscle strength. Try exercises aimed at your ability level that focus on building core strength.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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