A hernia can be a painful, or at least unsettling, injury.
They are characterized by a bulging or outpouching of the intestines or other tissues through the abdominal wall.
Unfortunately, hernias are quite common, especially among men, and runners aren’t immune.
But, can you get a hernia from running? Moreover, can you run with a hernia if you do get one?
In this article, we will discuss if you can get a hernia from running, what to expect if you are a runner with a hernia and if you can go running with a hernia without exacerbating the injury.
We will discuss:
- What Is a Hernia?
- Can You Get a Hernia From Running?
- Can You Run With a Hernia?
- Do You Have To Stop Running With a Hernia
- 6 Tips for Running With a Hernia Or After Hernia Surgery
Let’s get started!
What Is a Hernia?
A hernia is a bulging or protrusion of the intestines through the abdominal wall.
There are quite a few types of hernias, primarily distinguished by the location in which they occur.
Inguinal and femoral hernias occur near the groin, umbilical hernias occur by the belly button, incisional hernias occur at a site where you have had a surgical incision, and epigastric hernias occur higher up on the stomach, to name a few.
Depending on the hernia’s location, it might be quite painful or just somewhat uncomfortable.
For example, most inguinal hernias can cause a sharp pain around the belly button and groin, while a hiatal hernia or an abdominal hernia higher up on the belly may not be as painful.
Can You Get a Hernia From Running?
Hernias are typically caused by overuse of and overexertion of weakened abdominal muscles and a weakened abdominal wall.
The weakened abdominal wall can be marked by gaps, holes, or breaks in the continuity of the muscle, fascia, and connective tissues encapsulating and overlying the abdominal contents, including the intestines.
Therefore, when intra-abdominal pressure increases, especially during exertion, the intestines and other tissues in the abdominal cavity can protrude through these weakened holes in the abdominal wall, resulting in a hernia.
Running can potentially cause a hernia, as these injuries usually occur while straining or otherwise increasing the pressure in the abdominal cavity.
When you exert yourself during exercise, intra-abdominal pressure increases. This can provide enough force to push the intestines through a hole or weak spot in the abdominal wall.
Although it’s more common to get a hernia during resistance training, particularly when the Valsalva maneuver is utilized (inhaling and holding the breath while pushing), it’s also possible to get a hernia from running.
Running can also cause a specific type of hernia called a sports hernia. Rather than being due to a weakness in the abdominal wall, sports hernias are an actual injury or tearing of the abdominal wall due to a sudden or sharp turning or twisting motion.
Runners who rapidly change directions while running at a high speed may incur a sports hernia. These usually are located in the groin region, like inguinal or femoral hernias.
Can You Run With a Hernia?
Most doctors and healthcare professionals say that you should not run with an inguinal hernia.
The recovery period from an inguinal hernia is usually between 1-4 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury, if you need surgery, and the type of surgery performed (open or laparoscopic surgery).
If you have a minor inguinal hernia that does not require surgery, you might be able to resume light exercise after 1-2 weeks of rest, perhaps easy running after 2 weeks.
Generally, with mild hernias, the first line of treatment is to employ the RICE protocol: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Unfortunately, this usually entails resting from running for 7-10 days while you implement the other components of the RICE protocol.
After this recovery period, you will typically get evaluated for surgery. Surgery is often implicated in cases where this initial recovery period has not reduced the size and swelling of the hernia.
Most hernia surgeries these days are laparoscopic rather than open surgeries.
With a laparoscopic incision, the recovery is much quicker, so you can usually return to walking and light exercise after just one week and easy running after two weeks.
Open abdominal hernia operations are more involved. You will likely need to refrain from running for 3-4 weeks post-op to allow the stitches time to heal without increasing pressure in the abdominal cavity.
Do You Have to Stop Running With a Hernia?
So, is it safe to run with a hernia if you don’t have hernia surgery?
Not every doctor will necessarily say you have to stop running with a hernia. It depends on the site and severity of the hernia, whether or not you have any pain, and your general health.
If you do not have any pain, you may be able to run with a hernia.
However, the very nature of running itself increases the pressure inside your abdomen, which can cause the hernia to bulge even more.
Additionally, as the hernia enlarges when you run, it can put pressure on other abdominal organs, such as your bowels.
Not only can this cause symptoms such as the urge to defecate (which can certainly be inconvenient when you are running), but it can also restrict blood flow, which can have a host of negative ramifications, such as increasing the risk of infection and necrosis.
This can lead to a condition called a strangulated hernia, which is an emergency situation that requires immediate surgery.
6 Tips for Running With a Hernia Or After Hernia Surgery
Here are some tips to expedite your return to running after hernia surgery, and to make running after a hernia safer, whether or not you had surgery.
#1: Respect Your Recovery
Take your rest seriously. Rather than trying to sneak in a few “really easy” runs prematurely, refrain from running right after the hernia and/or surgery to allow the tissues to heal.
If you run too early, you’ll just set yourself back in terms of full recovery, and easy runs aren’t going to do much for your fitness anyway.
When your doctor clears you for other light exercise, you should be able to safely perform low-impact exercise, such as walking and indoor cycling.
Compared with running, these activities cause less jostling and pressure buildup in the abdominal cavity.
#2: Limit Exertion
While healing from a hernia, try to limit unnecessary exertion.
Ask for help lifting or pushing anything, and refrain from getting up as much as possible.
Avoid anything that triggers you to cough, such as being around someone who is smoking or allergens.
#3: Be Mindful Of Diet
Running after a hernia surgery will be more comfortable and can occur sooner if you can get the information associated with the hernia on the control.
This can potentially be facilitated by eating anti-inflammatory foods, such as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, fatty fish like salmon, and seeds and nuts with omega-3 fatty acids.
Equally important is avoiding inflammatory foods, such as sugar, alcohol, red meat, excess sodium, hydrogenated oils, and trans fats.
Also, avoid constipating foods such as fast food and red meat to avoid straining as you use the bathroom.
Eat a fiber-rich diet with fresh vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and fruits.
This will make it easier to move your bowels so that you don’t have to bear down and increase intra-abdominal pressure to use the bathroom.
Doing so can exacerbate a hernia or disrupt the healing site after hernia surgery.
#4: Run On Soft Surfaces
When you do return to running after hernia surgery or after allowing the hernia to heal on its own, it’s a good idea to run on softer surfaces like grass or trails rather than hard pavement.
More forgiving terrain will reduce the impact stress on your body, which will help protect the hernia site from jarring movements.
#5: Wear Compression Gear
Depending on the site of your hernia, wearing compression shorts or a compression top can help provide a little extra support to the weakened abdominal wall surrounding the hernia.
Make sure your running clothing isn’t too tight, but many runners find that gentle compression helps when running with a hernia.
#6: Pay Attention to Your Body
If you are running with a hernia, it’s imperative that you listen to your body, paying attention to signs of strangulation.
One sign of a strangulated hernia is a dull, aching pain in the deep abdomen, groin, or thigh. The pain may radiate.
Another hallmark sign is weakness. If you are running with a hernia and notice that your stride suddenly feels less powerful and stable, or you feel any type of weakness in your groin or upper leg, you should stop running immediately and seek medical attention.
Lastly, bloating and vomiting can be signs of bowel obstruction.
Work with your doctor to get tailored recommendations, particularly if you have concerns about returning to running after hernia surgery or running with a hernia.
The good news is that the advancements in hernia procedures have significantly reduced the necessary healing window, so even if you need surgery, you should be able to resume running in a couple of weeks.
If you are going to start out with some low-impact cardio, here are some running alternatives to look into.