After umbilical hernia surgery, your physician will give you a schedule explaining how long you should wait before exercising and suggestions for recommended exercises. Every person is different — the size of your hernia, the complexity of the repair, your physical condition before surgery and your sensitivity to pain will all determine how much you can do and how soon.
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Hernias happen when your abdominal muscles aren't strong enough to withstand pressure from inside your body. Internal stress on the abdominal wall opens a space between muscles. Tissue that is supposed to be inside the abdominal wall pushes out through the opening. In order to fix the hernia, a surgeon has to push the tissue back in and then seal the opening. Three common methods of hernia repair include tension-free mesh, traditional and laparoscopic.
Almost immediately after your surgery, you can begin doing one simple but very effective abdominal exercise: deep breathing. As long as your doctor approves, you can practice taking slow, deep breaths in and exhaling slowly and completely. Repeat this exercise for about four or five cycles in and out, once or twice per hour. Deep breathing not only engages your abdominal muscles, it also reduces the risk of lung infections.
The abdominals are involved in nearly every activity you do; simply focusing on having good posture will engage your belly muscles, as will walking and climbing stairs.
Pelvic tilts also work the abs gently: lie on your back on a carpeted floor or on a yoga mat with your knees bent and kneecaps pointing toward the ceiling. Contract your belly muscles to press the full length of your spine into the floor without raising your hips up. Then relax your belly and let the curve of your spine lift off the floor. You can do this about six to eight times in three or four sets.
From the same starting position, you can also do a glute bridge, raising your pelvis gently toward the ceiling while keeping your shoulders on the floor.
When you feel ready for more, try supine reverse marches. This move has the same starting position described above, but the focus here is on keeping your lower back stable. To do this, you have to contract your abdominals before you start moving. Bring one bent knee toward you — keeping the knee bent to 90 degrees — just until your shin is parallel to the floor. Keep the leg in this position while you breathe in and out. Put the first leg down, and then repeat with the other leg. Repeat two to four times on each leg.
Once you have had an abdominal hernia repair, you are at greater risk for an incisional hernia. That means the surgical correction could tear and your hernia could come back. According to Penn State University, incisional hernias can result from exercise that puts too much pressure on the abdomen. Wait for your doctor’s approval before you start doing heavy lifting, and when you do, always use good body mechanics.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Hernia Center of Southern California: Techniques
- Hernia Center of Southern California: FAQ
- "BMJ": Prevention of Respiratory Complications After Abdominal Surgery: A Randomised Clinical Trial; JC Hall, et al.; Jan. 20, 1996
- Penn State University: Incisional Hernia
- MayoClinic.com: Inguinal Hernia
- American Council on Exercise: Supine Pelvic Tilts
- American Council on Exercise: Supine Reverse Marches