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“Q&A” I Have a Hernia… Can I Exercise?

“Q&A” I Have a Hernia… Can I Exercise?

By: Arnan Sisson, PT

February 2, 2024

Recently we received an email from a fellow in Warsaw who had a hernia which was causing him some pain. The client has been slightly fearful of doing any exercise since worried that any strenuous movement is going to cause him harm. Surgery was something that he desperately wanted to avoid! So his question was can I exercise with a hernia?


This is a common question and many patients that come into the practice have experienced hernias. It could be that they have a slight hernia or in some cases a hernia that has been repaired surgically. The short answer is YES you can exercise.


To back up a little bit, a hernia is an organ that protrudes out. It could be the small intestines or any other organ but typically what happens is that the organ protrudes out through the muscles or tissue that keeps it in place through strain or pressure.  Hernias tend to start as a little spot that is bulging out, oftentimes you may not see anything or even experience much pain. With a bad hernia though you may be in a significant amount of pain when holding your breath or trying to lift something heavy.


Like I was saying we do have a lot of clients that come in with a hernia and we can push them through an entire plan of care to eliminate back pain, and neck pain, and rehab their knee replacements even had one patient that had TMJ issues and we were able to fix that while dealing with a hernia.


The #1 rule is you want to make sure that if someone has a hernia that you avoid two things. You'll want to stay away from any sort of exercise or activities that are high-impact, so steer clear of anything involving quick motion. Playing football, basketball, soccer, or baseball would be an example of the type of activities you want to stay away from. Heavy lifting could also be very problematic for a hernia due to increased pressure on our inner organs which could cause the hernia in the first place.


The golden rule is that most of us can exercise with a hernia you just have to make sure you continue to breathe. You have to keep you breathing normal, whenever you hold your breath while you exercise or lift something heavy, that can double or even triple the amount of pressure on the organ that is protruding out and that can cause pain or injury. So if you are making sure to control your breathing, and not holding your breath, tightening your stomach while you exercise it's perfectly safe for you to exercise with a hernia.


If you still have concerns about exercising while having a hernia it's always a good idea to speak with your family physician so they may have a better understanding of your case. But a good rule of thumb that I teach a lot of my clients coming to the practice is to use the pain rule. If anything shoots up the pain that means you're doing something wrong and if there is no pain with the activities that usually means you're safe to continue. So as long as your breathing and there is no pain in most cases you are more than able to exercise safely with a hernia.