Is there a way to prevent hernias? Absolutely, yes!
Basically, everyone has a baseline predisposition for hernia formation. That is based on non-modifiable risk factors for hernia, such as genetics.
Beyond that, anyone can reduce any further risk of hernia formation by following easy 5 steps.
1. Don’t Gain Weight
Your goal should be the ideal weight for your height. This is typically calculated as a body mass index of 18 to 25 kg/m2.
Obesity starts at 30 kg/m2. Once you are overweight, it is a slippery slope toward obesity. The more you gain weight, the more abdominal fat is accumulated, the more pressure that fat places on the abdominal wall. Hernia tendencies respond to this increase in abdominal pressure.
Pretty much all sports and other exercises are found to be protective of hernias. They do not increase abdominal pressure but maintain your weight and muscle strength. These can include sit-ups, weightlifting, and running. We would like you to focus on core abdominal strengthening. For example, Yoga, Pilates, and cycling are excellent. Also, we strongly discourage Cross-Fit type exercises–they tend to include a lot of jumping and squats, both of which have been shown to increase abdominal pressure. Also, the movements are fast, which make you more prone to tearing. Other examples of extreme exercises we don’t recommend if you wish to prevent hernias are P90X, Insanity, and other similar workouts.
3. Prevent Constipation
Straining during a bowel movement can cause a lot of abdominal pressure. This can push onto hernia-prone areas and increase your risk of hernia development. In fact, we believe it is the #1 cause of hernias in the US. Remedies include high fiber diet or fiber supplements. These come over the counter in pill, powder, or even cookie form. Stool softeners do not work. Mineral oil, Milk of Magnesia, and Miralax are our favorite 3-M’s of hernia prevention. Try any combination of these over the counter remedies. Also, don’t forget to keep hydrated.
Remember that anesthesia and pain pills can cause constipation. So, it is very important to prophylaxis against constipation before any operation and continue it after surgery. This will reduce your risk of hernia from your incision.
4. Treat That Cough
If you are coughing due to a cold or allergy, treat that cough aggressively. Same with asthma or bronchitis. Coughing causes even more abdominal pressure than straining due to constipation. If you are coughing due to smoking, take all steps necessary to quit! Nicotine-free e-cigs are a great alternative.
5. [Men] Treat Your Enlarged Prostate
Just as straining while defecating can lead to hernias, so can straining for urination due to an enlarged prostate. Symptoms of an enlarged prostate that can promote hernia formation include a) waking up 2 or more times per night to urinate, b) straining to make that slow urinary stream go faster, c) straining to try to empty that last bit of urine in the bladder. Most treatments are medical. See your primary care physician or urologist to have your prostate checked via digital exam and begin treatment.
If contemplating hernia surgery in the groin, do not even schedule surgery until you have confirmed that you don’t have an enlarged prostate. The rate of urinary retention after this type of surgery is high, up to 25%, if the prostate is enlarged. Trust us, you don’t want a urinary catheter if you can prevent it.