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Does Lifting Weights Affect an Inguinal Hernia?

author image Sriram Ramgopal
Sriram Ramgopal is a medical graduate from Sri Ramachandra University, India. He currently lives in the the greater Boston area and works as a Neurology Research Fellow at Children's Hospital, Boston. Ramgopal is also the co-founder of Sangam India, a nonprofit urban development organization based in Chennai, India.
Does Lifting Weights Affect an Inguinal Hernia?
Lifting weights can raise intra-abdominal pressure, increasing the risk of hernia. Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

A hernia is a condition in which an abdominal content protrudes out of its enclosure. An inguinal hernia is a condition in which herniation occurs in the inguinal canal, an opening present on either side of the groin. Weightlifting is an important cause of inguinal herniation. Hernias should be treated with surgery to prevent complications; and weightlifters should ensure that they return to working out slowly to prevent a recurrence.

Inguinal Hernia

The inguinal canal can be thought as a tunnel that goes through the abdominal wall. This opening is formed by two gaps in the muscles of the abdomen. In males, the inguinal canal is larger because it passes the spermatic cord, which contains the vas deferens. In some cases, this opening becomes weakened, and this allows other structures, often the intestines, to pass through the opening. This condition, when it happens, is known as an inguinal hernia. The type of inguinal hernia which occurs in adults is called the indirect inguinal hernia.

Lifting Weight Causing Hernia

Any condition in which the pressure inside the abdomen is raised can lead to an inguinal hernia. A raise in pressure increases the force against the inguinal canal, increasing the chance of herniation. Weightlifting is an important cause of this increased intra-abdominal pressure. Some evidence suggests that a single, strenuous event can predispose to inguinal hernias. A study published in "Hernia" in 2007 suggests that heavy work may be associated with sudden inguinal herniation. Besides weightlifting, a number of other causes of inguinal hernia are known; they all cause hernia by straining that increases the pressure within the abdomen. Conditions causing chronic cough and benign hypertrophy of the prostate, for example, can both cause raised pressures within the abdomen, leading to herniation.

Complications of Hernia

Inguinal hernias often cause a bulge in the groin that appears while lifting weights. Most hernias are asymptomatic but may cause a dull pain. Complications of hernia include obstruction, a condition where food can no longer pass through the intestine, and strangulation, a severe condition in which blood supply to the herniated intestine is cut off, which can cause gangrene. These complications need to be treated urgently.

Weightlifting after Surgery

The most important treatment for hernias is to manage them through a surgery. During a hernioplasty, the most common surgical treatment for inguinal hernias, the abdominal contents are placed back inside the abdomen and the openings of the canal are narrowed. A mesh, made of undigestable polypropylene, is often left in place over the canal to prevent recurrence. The risk of hernia recurrence is low but is highest immediately following surgery. According to the Hernia Center of Southern California, weightlifters can gradually begin lifting small amounts of weights within the first week of surgery. They can resume regular training after eight weeks.

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