Exercise provides many health benefits. It boosts your cardiovascular and respiratory health, strengthens muscles, improves immunity and burns calories. Regular physical activity is also known to promote regular bowel movements, which can prevent hemorrhoids and even help them heal.
However, certain types of exercise could make hemorrhoids worse. Having hemorrhoids need not deter you from exercising, as long as you take care to exercise wisely.
Low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, typically won't aggravate hemorrhoids.
What Are Hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins located around the anus or inside the rectum — the last section of your large intestine. Symptoms include bleeding during bowel movements, often showing up as bright-red blood on the toilet paper, along with pain, itching or swelling.
Hemorrhoids are linked to situations that strain the veins in the rectal or anal area — such as sitting on the toilet for prolonged periods of time or straining with bowel movements.
Other common causes include the pregnancy-related pressure on rectal veins and age-related weakening of muscles and connective tissue. While some exercises cause straining and can worsen hemorrhoids, regular exercise is recommended to help heal and prevent hemorrhoids.
Working Out With Hemorrhoids
The main purpose of exercise in hemorrhoid prevention and management is to promote normal bowel movements, which, in turn, can prevent constipation and straining when you are trying to pass stool. In addition, exercise can strengthen muscles and improve blood flow, helping to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the affected area — which can reduce inflammation and promote healing.
Most types of cardiovascular exercise, including walking, treadmill or swimming, can work well and should not aggravate discomfort. Yoga or similar exercises can improve muscle tone and strengthen abdominal and rectal tissue. Exercises that tone and strengthen your sphincter muscles may also help — such as tightening and relaxing your buttocks muscles while you're standing or sitting.
Exercises to Avoid
If you currently suffer from hemorrhoids, avoid any activities that cause you to have more pain or discomfort. For instance, horseback riding, cycling or rowing may worsen discomfort by placing extra pressure on sensitive areas. In addition, heavy lifting or related activities may worsen hemorrhoids by increasing pressure in the abdominal or rectal areas.
Exercises that use the Valsalva maneuver —holding your breath while pushing to exhale, common in weightlifting — may also worsen hemorrhoids. However, if you suffer from hemorrhoids and already include strenuous exercise or weightlifting in your routine, you may be able to modify your lifting technique to minimize risk. Also, ask your doctor for personalized advice regarding weight lifting and hemorrhoids.
Warnings and Precautions
If eating more fiber, drinking more fluids and exercise aren't enough to promote soft stool and avoid constipation, your doctor may recommend stool softeners. In addition, soothing agents or pain relievers may be advised to help manage the discomfort and pain of hemorrhoids.
Sometimes hemorrhoids require procedures or surgery to cut off the blood supply, so be sure to follow up with your doctor if you have continued pain or bleeding. Also, blood in the stool can be a sign of something more serious, including cancer, so don't ignore this symptom. If you have bloody or maroon stool, see a doctor right away.