A hernia is caused by a weakness in the muscle and connective tissue in part of the body. There are many types of hernia but they are most common in the abdominal area. Knowing how to move and exercise can help to reduce pain, and help you minimize the limitations and promote healing of a hernia.
This blog provides basic and general information about exercising with or to prevent a hernia. Consult your physician for information specific to your condition. If you are a UMass Memorial Weight Center patient, contact the center to know if you are eligible for a telehealth visit and we can discuss your exercise plan.
Exercising with or to prevent an abdominal hernia starts with understanding your abdomen structure and function. Your spine is set up to be very mobile to allow for freedom of movement. The abdominal muscles job is to support and protect your abdomen while you move freely.
When the joints of your spine are lined up in their strongest position, its called alignment. The job of the core muscles is to hold your spine in alignment as you move. When your spine is out of alignment, for example when you are ‘slouching’ or when you are standing with your chest out and shoulders back (i.e.: military posture), there is greater pressure from the inside out on your abdominal muscles. If there is any weakness in these muscles and connective tissue that holds them together, that pressure can make the weakness grow, and can make a hernia worse.
Knowing how to position your own body to be in alignment is the first and most important step in helping or preventing a hernia. The more moments of the day you spend in alignment, the more chance the wall has to heal rather than be strained. The first step to exercising with a hernia is not during typical exercise time but to pay attention to how your body is positioned in moments of your day that you are not moving.
The next step is knowing how to use your core to support your abdomen, so when you move you reduce the strain on the abdominal wall. The most effective equipment for strengthening your core is your brain. The ability to contract your core to support your body to stay in alignment as you move strengthens your built in brace that supports your abdominal wall you as you move. Your nervous system is what controls your muscles. When you strengthen your brains ability to turn those muscles on and off consciously, you will be helping them to support you even when you are not thinking about it consciously.
Exercises like planks, sit ups, crunches can all strain rather than strengthen the abdominal wall. Since they don’t teach the core to do its job, and wont make you lose belly fat, they work best when you don’t do them! Simply using your brain to turn on your core to support you as you move is the way to a stronger core.
Finally, choose types of exercise that keep you in this aligned position and able to use your core to support that position. Exercises where you are bent over mean gravity will be adding to that internal pressure on your abdominal wall. Choose exercises you can be upright as much as possible. Exercises like push ups and bent over rows would be an example of positions to avoid if you have a hernia. Do a chest press and row with exercise bands or pullies instead so you can be upright while strengthening these movements. During cardiovascular exercise, choose types that allow you to be in alignment such as a treadmill, and not bent over, like on a spin bike. Choose upright positions and use your core muscles for support during stretching too.
Understanding the structure of your body, how its set up to move with the least strain, and paying attention to body positions throughout your day as well as when exercising, can go a long way for staying strong and moving with more confidence when you have a hernia.
Keep moving, be Well