Whether or not heavy lifting caused your hernia — and it may be an important factor — one thing is certain: After you develop a hernia, heavy lifting may speed up the natural progression of the process and can frequently lead to an increase in symptoms . That’s why the team at Surgical Associates of North Texas want you to know about heavy lifting and its impact on hernias.
Determining the cause of a hernia
Hernias occur when tissues and organs inside your abdomen protrude out through a weak area in the abdominal wall. Children can be born with a hernia. But adults acquire their hernias, which is the medical way of saying that something happens over the years to cause the problem.
Since a hernia develops due to a weakness in the abdominal wall, determining what can cause a hernia comes down to asking, “How does the fascia weaken enough to allow internal tissues to bulge out?”
As you might suspect, there are several factors that contribute to fascial weakness. For example, the scar from a previous surgery creates a weak area. In many cases, tissues only regain about 80% of their original strength at the incision site after you have surgery.
An injury to the abdominal wall can create a weakened area. Additionally, some parts of your abdominal wall are naturally fragile, such as your navel (umbilicus) and inguinal region. That’s why incisional, inguinal, and umbilical hernias are the three most common types of hernias.
These hernias are caused by a combination of abdominal wall weakness and — the key ingredient — an increase in intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which pushes your internal tissues through that weak spot. Can heavy lifting create enough pressure to cause a hernia? Absolutely.
Here’s how lifting heavy objects leads to a hernia
The inside of your abdomen is naturally pressurized. In fact, this normal pressure plays a role in stabilizing your spine. Like your blood pressure, though, abdominal pressure needs to stay within a normal range or problems develop. One certain way to increase your abdominal pressure is by lifting heavy objects.
The more weight you lift, the more your IAP rises. Your IAP is also affected by the way you pick up the object. Lifting from a squatting position, for example, significantly adds to the effect of the total weight being lifted. One study showed that squatting and then standing without holding any weight increased IAP more than if you lifted a 22-pound item off a counter.
Every time your IAP increases, it places stress on the abdominal wall. This repetitive stress is just like an overuse injury because it can cause tiny tears in the muscles and connective tissues. Over time, the ongoing stress of high IAP gradually weakens these myofascial tissues.
While healthy, strong myofascial tissues can usually stand up to normal changes in abdominal pressure, a high IAP takes a toll on the areas that are already weakened. Then one day, you lift something heavy — just like you have many times before — but this time you “suddenly” develop a hernia.
Now, there is obviously more to it as there are a lot of people who do a lot of heavy lifting in their lifetime and never develop a hernia. Likewise, there are others who never lift anything heavy at all who still develop hernias. Along with factors caused from activity, there can also be a strong genetic component which can either make one more or less likely to develop a hernia, regardless of their activity levels.
Hernias worsen over time
The biggest concern about a hernia is that once it develops, it continues to worsen. Hernias simply don’t heal on their own, and over time, it will take less pressure to make the affected organs or tissues bulge out through the opening.
Once the bulge of a hernia is noticeable, you’ll be able to see how the protrusion worsens when you do anything that boosts your IAP, whether it’s picking up a heavy object, coughing, sneezing, or straining during a bowel movement.
As it worsens, you run the risk of the hernia becoming strangulated, or caught in the muscular wall. A strangulated or twisted hernia can quickly turn into a medical emergency if it’s severe enough to cut off blood flow.
The only treatment for a hernia is surgery to return the protruding tissues to their normal anatomic location and then repair the defect in the fascia. If you suspect you have a hernia, the team at Surgical Associates of North Texas can help by evaluating the severity of your problem and offering treatment guidelines.
If you have any questions or you’d like to schedule an appointment, use online booking or call the office in McKinney, Texas.