Can Lifting Weights Cause a Hernia?
Worried that ramping up your weight lifting circuit might give you a hernia? Hernias are a common
concern, especially among weight lifters, primarily because of the nature of the injury - they most often result from lifting something heavy.
What exactly is a hernia?
There are a handful of
types of hernias, but the general gist of the injury is that it is a portion of
organ protruding through the tissue lining which is supposed to hold it in. For
example, an abdominal hernia is a loop of the intestines busting through the
abdominal wall and forming a visible bulge underneath the skin. Weightlifters
who do develop a hernia will most often get this type.
Other hernias happen in
the chest cavity (hiatal hernia) where a portion of the stomach protrudes up
through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, causing acid reflux and other
nauseating symptoms. And others around the belly button (umbilical hernia) and
at the site of a recent surgical incision (incisional hernia).
What causes a hernia?
Just because you lift
weights doesn't put you at risk for developing a hernia more than the next guy
(or girl). It's that type of physical exertion combined
with a weakened abdominal wall in the first place that will make your more
The muscular structure
of the abdominal wall is typically weaker due to predisposing genetic factors
out of your control, as well as chronic coughing, or damage from a previous
surgery or simply older age. Weakened tissue is not fortified enough against an
organ pushing strongly against it, which is what happens when you lift
something heavy, and that's how it becomes torn and lets the organ push
Your risk goes up for developing a hernia if
there is a present family history of hernias, if you have chronic cough or
constipation which places added pressure on abdominal walls, or if you are
overweight or obese.
Symptoms of an abdominal (inguinal) hernia include:
A visible bulge in the abdomen or groin area
Tenderness, burning, and aching at the site of the lump
The feeling of heavy pressure or weakness in the groin
Pain in the lower abdomen when laughing, coughing, lifting, or
Are hernias dangerous?
While you should always
seek a medical evaluation from a doctor if you are concerned that you have
developed a hernia, they are not always dangerous. In fact, many people live
with abdominal hernias for years and even exercise with them. There are
complications, however, which can arise from a hernia and lead to
Incarceration of a
hernia, or where the loop of intestines becomes trapped outside the abdominal
wall and can't be pushed back in can increase your risk for injury. When the
blood supply to the portion of that organ then gets cut off, called
strangulation, the tissue can become damaged and even start to die. This will
require immediate surgical intervention.
How are hernias treated?
Hernias can only be repaired with
surgery, however, it is not always necessary to continue day to day living and
exercising. The portion of intestines composing the hernia can physically be
pushed back into place and held there with a hernia belt.
How will a weight lifting belt prevent hernia complications? Weight lifting, or abdominal, hernia belts wrap
around the abdomen and pinpoint compression and support to the area of the
hernia, helping to reinforce the wall holding it in. This is especially
critical when lifting weights or after surgery to prevent exacerbating the
injury and increasing the pain associated with it.
Exercises to restore and
strengthen the abdominal wall can also help you manage a hernia and prevent
incarceration and strangulation. What's great about lifting weights and
engaging in body building activity is that when done with correct body mechanics
and form, those types of exercises can actually help prevent hernias by
fortifying the abdominal wall.
How can I prevent a
If you are an avid
weight lifter, you might already be at an advantage for preventing hernias
because chances are you are not overweight and you exercise regularly. It is
more often a sedentary, overweight individual who makes one awkward movement or
tries to lift something ultra heavy all at once who develops an abdominal
injury like a hernia.
You will want to make sure,
however, that your weight lifting circuit and workout routine include effective
dynamic workouts to help warm muscles and other connective tissues up before
lifting heavy weights. You'll also want to perfect your form and technique to
make sure you are lifting correctly, and not overexerting the abdominal wall.
The lifetime risk for
developing an inguinal hernia is much higher for men than it is for women, simply because of anatomy and the natural
predilection for lifting heavy objects. Healthy habits like not smoking,
maintaining a fit weight, and being smart about weightlifting technique and
progression will go a long way in helping prevent acquired hernias.