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.)
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