Healthy Tahoe: Lower your risk for a hernia

Alan Barichievich, MS, PT

A hernia is a common problem where internal pressure can cause tissue to bulge through a weak spot in the muscle, most commonly in the abdomen or groin area. Family history of hernias or prior hernias makes a person more susceptible, along with improper lifting form, excess body weight and constipation.

Alan Barichievich

While not all hernias can be prevented, there are ways to reduce the chances of developing a hernia with some practical prevention tips.

Maintain a healthy body weight. Unless fully relaxed, our bodies are under some amount of pressure at all times; in even the most simple of movements like standing and sitting. Having excess fat puts extra strain on the walls of the abdomen, causing it to weaken over time. A healthy weight will lower the risk of a hernia by reducing the constant pressure on your abdominal wall. Walking, swimming, light jogging and gentle yoga are some good exercise activities to manage body weight and maintain cardio-respitory health without introducing excessive pressure.

Eat a fiber-rich diet. A diet including whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts not only helps with weight management; these foods, along with plenty of water, can promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. Constipation creates undue pressure in the abdomen during bowel movements and can contribute to a hernia.

Use proper lifting techniques. Lifting heavy objects creates a sudden increase in abdominal pressure. With correct form, you greatly reduce your chances of a hernia. When lifting keep your feet shoulder-width apart to provide a stable base. Bend from the knees, rather than from the waist. Keep your back straight and your gaze forward. Keep the object close to your body and lift slowly, using your arms, legs, and core (abdominal muscles) to lift—not your back. Take it slow to ensure your body is properly aligned and weight is distributed evenly. If you are doing athletic weightlifting, be sure to warm up properly, start light and increase weight over time.

Increase core strength. Your “core” includes the major muscles of the pelvic and abdominal region, such as the pelvic floor, obliques and glutes. Core-strengthening exercises will work the muscles surrounding your abdomen and groin to promote strength and elasticity. Learning to contract and tighten your abdominal muscles (abdominal bracing) without putting strain on the hernia area is a good starting point. Once that is achieved, more challenging core exercises such as bridges and planks will further strengthen the abdomen and groin.

Most hernias can be prevented by avoiding undue strain from within the body. If you feel pain during lifting, stop immediately. Pain is a good indication that something is not right.

If you are at high risk for a hernia, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about lifestyle modifications and discuss what exercises might aid in prevention.

Alan Barichievich, MS, PT, is the Director of Rehabilitation, Sports Medicine and Performance with Barton Health. For more information on how to implement an injury prevention exercise program, call the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness at 530-539-6600 or visit

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