Seeing your stomach protrude when doing sit-ups can be alarming, especially if there are more than one. The most likely cause of the protrusion, or protrusions, is a hernia — a weakness in the wall of the abdominal tissue.
In some cases, it is not a cause for concern, but you should consult your physician for a diagnosis. If it's severe, you may require surgery to repair the abdominal wall.
Read more: Exercising With a Hernia
What Is a Hernia?
A hernia can occur anywhere in the body but happens most often in the abdominal area, particularly the inguinal, or pelvic, region. The hernia is the result of an organ or intestine poking through the peritoneum — the lining of the abdominal cavity —and making your stomach bulge during sit-ups.
Hernias are classified by where they appear in the abdomen, and it's possible to have more than one. A hiatal hernia will appear in the upper part of the stomach, and a sports hernia or athletic pubalgia appears in the groin area according to John Hopkins Medicine — usually caused by explosive movements in sports like rugby, football, hockey and hurdling.
An umbilical hernia appears around the area of the belly button. Umbilical hernias are more commonly seen in infants, and result when the muscle around the umbilicus doesn't completely close.
Hernia Symptoms and Discomfort
Many times, hernias have no symptoms, and you may not notice it until you put exceptional pressure on the abdomen, such as when you perform a sit-up or bend over at the waist. Some hernias can cause discomfort, and the discomfort can get worse when you put pressure on the belly.
If the discomfort increases, or you start to feel pain, the tissue, organ or intestine that is causing the protrusion may be caught in the hole in the peritoneum. If this is the case, seek immediate medical attention.
Hernia From Sit-Ups
Any activity that puts pressure on the abdominal area can lead to a hernia, especially if you have had surgery in the area or an injury. Sit-ups and over-training before you're ready may be the cause according to the American Council on Exercise, if you are doing a lot of them, or they may just be making the hernia worse or more noticeable.
Other common causes of hernias are obesity or sudden weight gain, chronic coughing, lifting heavy weights, pregnancy, chronic constipation and any other activity that causes you to constantly strain the abdominal muscles. Poor nutrition, cystic fibrosis, smoking and overexertion can also lead to a hernia.
Read more: Can I Exercise With a Hernia?
No Surgery to Surgery
Consult a doctor for treatment. Your doctor may decide to simply monitor the hernia if it is small and not causing you any discomfort. If there is a risk of further damage, or the hernia is causing you discomfort, you may need to have surgery.
In some cases, a less-invasive surgery known as laparoscopic surgery, which uses a camera and smaller incisions, may be performed. According to Cleveland Clinic, most surgeries are done using stitches or a synthetic mesh to plug the hole. If the hernia is painful, turns red or purple, or you have nausea and vomiting along with the pain, seek immediate medical attention.
Another reason to seek immediate medical attention is if you cannot manually push the hernia back into your abdominal cavity with gentle pressure, even if there is no pain.