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Physical Therapy Post-Hernia

written by: CatNorth • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 3/31/2011

Find out about exercises you can perform during post-hernia physical therapy. Recognize the symptoms of a hernia and what you can do to avoid sustaining such an injury. Realize the benefits of finding balance between strength and flexibility.

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    Overview

    Sustaining a hernia is not only a painful experience, but it can also put you out of commission for a while. Typically sustained while performing physical activity of some kind, hernias tend to occur because the body is out of balance, which triggers a mechanism by which the inside abdominal wall layers weaken and bulge or even tear, says the Cleveland Clinic1. This imbalance is usually due to a weak core, especially weak abdominal muscles, according to Sports Hernia Surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Hoadley of Sports Hernia South2. Post-hernia physical therapy, therefore, is based on stretching the abdominal and leg muscles, as well as strengthening the core.

    When a hernia occurs, it’s often the case that a weak core combined with stronger legs has caused your body to move unequally, creating a condition ripe for the injury. That’s why post-hernia physical therapy emphasizes leg stretching, not leg strengthening, and building core strength and flexibility. Developing core strength is essential for protecting yourself during all sorts of physical activity, and developing core flexibility is just as important. With a strong and agile core, you have better control over your body and are able to move easier during exercise, as well as during daily activities. Physical therapy not only helps correct muscle group imbalances during hernia recovery, but it can also help you realize the importance of overall balance in physical fitness.

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    Definition and Symptoms

    If you experience a hernia, it means the inside abdominal wall layers in your body have weakened, causing a bulge or tear. The abdomen’s inner lining pokes through the weakened wall layers and forms a “balloon-like sac," according to the Cleveland Clinic1. This can also cause abdominal tissue or part of the intestine to get into the sac, which can lead to more than pain. It can also cause more serious health issues, says the Cleveland Clinic.

    Unusual strain, such as heavy lifting, intense coughing, significant weight gain or a difficult bowel movement, as well as a weak core, often cause hernias in both women and men of all ages. Hernias are typically located in the groin area, and symptoms include an obvious protrusion, pain with lifting, a continuous dull ache and a feeling of fullness, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

    Rest and physical therapy are key components of healing. Time and effort put into these will speed up your recovery and may prevent you from requiring hernia surgery, says Dr. Hoadley2.

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    First Two Weeks

    During the first two weeks of hernia recovery, you should avoid hyperextension of your trunk, or core, as well as your hips, according to Dr. Hoadley and his sports hernia repair protocol3. Also avoid crunching your abdominal area. Although, you can perform cardiovascular exercise, it should consist of light aerobic activity, such as walking for 20 minutes on a treadmill. Strengthening and stretching exercises can be included in your daily recovery exercise routine also. Physical therapy can incorporate light core and leg stretching, as well as gentle strengthening exercises. If you're working with a physical therapist, he can help with mobilization through massage and some stretching movements.

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    Weeks Three and Four

    During recovery weeks three and four, you can increase your aerobic activity some and begin exercising outdoors. This can include swimming, walking or cycling. Continue to work on flexibility and strength building. Especially work on stretching your hip flexors and performing regular strengthening exercises to build your core. You can add exercises, such as squats, leg presses and step-ups, says Dr. Hoadley3.

    During subsequent recovery weeks, you can increase both the speed and intensity of exercises during your regular workouts, adds Dr. Hoadley. Continue to stretch out gently, but you can amp up your aerobic and strength training routines.

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    Exercise and Balance

    Not only is finding balance in diet is important for maintaining a healthy body, but also finding balance in exercise is the key for sustainable health. Cardio, or aerobic, exercise alone is not adequate for maintaining total fitness. Incorporate equal amounts of aerobic, flexibility and strength exercise into your daily workout routine, and make sure you exercise, stretch and strengthen every part of your body. Weekly cross-training sessions and participating in regular holistic body exercise, such as yoga, tai chi or Pilates, will help keep your body balanced and functioning as the healthy organic system it was meant to be, as well as help you avoid injuries such as a hernia.

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    References

    1. Cleveland Clinic: What is a Hernia
      http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/hernia/he_overview.aspx
    2. Sports Hernia South: Sports Hernia Treatment & Sports Hernia Surgery
      http://www.sportsherniasouth.com/Sports-Hernia-Surgery.html
    3. Sports Hernia South: Sports Hernia Repair Protocol
      http://www.sportsherniasouth.com/Sports-Hernia-Treatment.html