Understanding Hernias When Weight Training

Image of person suffering from hernia in upper body

Weight training is especially popular with athletes and other individuals who are interested in getting fit and improving their strength. If done without proper form or body mechanics, however, weight training might cause injuries and other health conditions including an abdominal hernia.

Types, Signs, and Symptoms of an Abdominal Hernia

An abdominal hernia occurs when an organ (or a part of it) protrudes through a weak point in the wall of the abdominal cavity. This usually happens due to a combination of muscle weakness and straining that puts pressure in the weakened spot of the abdominal wall. Constipation, pregnancy, lifting heavy objects, and weight gain are major risk factors for an abdominal hernia.

The 5 major types of an abdominal hernia are as follows:

  1. Inguinal Hernia – This is the most common type of an abdominal hernia with 4.5 million reported cases per year in the United States. This occurs when the intestines protrude through a tear or a weak spot in the inguinal wall.

Signs and symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:

  • Discomfort when coughing or lifting
  • Pressure or heavy feeling in the abdomen and groin
  • A bulge or lump in the inguinal area
  • Burning or aching sensation in the bulge
  1. Epigastric Hernia – The epigastric region of your abdomen is found just above the umbilical region (navel) and below the breastbone. A hernia in this area comprises 2-3% of the total abdominal hernia cases. It is theorized that the tension exerted by the diaphragm is the most likely cause of an epigastric hernia.

Although it is common for an epigastric hernia to be asymptomatic, the following signs and symptoms might also be present:

  • Appearance of a bump in the epigastric region
  • Pain and tenderness in the epigastrium
  1. Umbilical Hernia – A hernia in the umbilical region happens when the part of the stomach muscle where the umbilical cord passes through didn’t close completely. When too much pressure is exerted in this weak spot, a hernia develops. Umbilical hernias are common in babies but they can also happen in adults.

The following factors could contribute to the development of an umbilical hernia in adults:

  • Frequent and multiple pregnancies
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Surgery in the stomach
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity
  • Persistent cough for long periods

The telltale sign of an umbilical hernia in adults is having a painful bulge in the area near the navel, which gets bigger when you strain, cough, or do activities that cause the pressure within the abdomen to increase.

  1. Femoral Hernia – This type of hernia is more common in women than in men. Although they are less common than the other types, femoral hernia cases could lead to serious complications. Because the organs protrude in such a small space, they can become strangulated.

When a hernia is still small, it generally presents with no signs or symptoms. However, as the protrusion becomes larger, you might experience the following:

  • A bulge may become visible in the upper thigh or below the hip bone
  • Pain when straining, standing or lifting heavy objects
  • Pain in the hip area, since femoral hernias often develop in the area close to the hip bone

Although abdominal hernias don’t pose an immediate threat to life, they might get worse if no medical intervention is taken.

5 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Abdominal Herniation

Congenital malformations and muscle weakness cannot be totally prevented. However, observing certain measures to reduce the amount of strain and pressure exerted in these weakened areas could help reduce the risk of having abdominal hernias.

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight.

Obesity is a major risk factor for an abdominal hernia so maintaining a healthy body weight could reduce your risk of developing one.

  1. Eat foods that are a rich source of fiber.

This could prevent constipation and strain during bowel movements.

  1. Observe proper body mechanics when lifting objects.

Lift with your knees and not with your back. Proper body mechanics maximize the proper use and range of motion of your muscles when lifting objects.

  1. Avoid lifting weights beyond your limit.

You know your limit and your fitness level. Add weights in your training gradually to prevent injury. If you are suffering from an abdominal hernia, wearing an abdominal hernia belt could provide an additional support and compression during physical activity.

  1. Treat a persistent cough as soon as possible.

Persistent coughing could build up the pressure inside your abdomen, increasing your risk of having a hernia.

Do the Weight Training Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

Although studies and reports have shown that lifting heavy weights is a major cause of an abdominal hernia, there is no denying that this exercise has its own fitness benefits. After all, it aims to strengthen your muscles. Taking precautionary measures could help you reap the benefits of weight training while ensuring that your body is protected from the risks that accompany it.

RESOURCES:

Ponten, JE, et al. “Pathogenesis of the epigastric hernia.” PubMed, Springer, 24 July 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22824990.

Balamaddaiah, G, and S.V. Rama Mohan Reddy. “Prevalence and risk factors of inguinal hernia: a study in a semi-Urban area in Rayalaseema, Andhra Pradesh, India.” ISJ International Surgery Journal, International Surgery Journal, Aug. 2016, www.ijsurgery.com/index.php/isj/article/view/416/414

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