Can Heavy Lifting Give You a Hernia?

The short answer from a general surgeon
illustration of a hernia

Q: Can heavy lifting give you a hernia?

A:  We often hear that a hernia first developed during a period of heavy lifting. But it is more likely to be a combination of factors at play.

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Because of the way our anatomy develops during the embryonic stage, a certain amount of weakness is often present at birth, typically in the abdominal wall near the belly button and/or groin.

Many patients go on to develop hernias in these areas, even without the undue stress of heavy lifting. That said, anything that raises pressure within the abdomen – coughing, lifting, sneezing or bearing down – can strain the weak area and cause a hernia.

We really cannot predict which patients will develop a hernia. So I’m not sure it’s worth avoiding physical activity out of fear that a hernia may develop. I usually advise patients to live their lives as they normally would. Physical activity has many proven health benefits. (Of course, it’s important to stop any activity that causes pain.)

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If you end up needing surgery, there are great options for repairing most umbilical and inguinal hernias, particularly when it’s a first-time operation.

—General surgeon Ajita Prabhu, MD

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