Can You Exercise if You Have a Hernia?

Kaye Kennedy
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Tree pose

Exercising with a hernia is often fine and even recommended, especially if you are overweight. Dr. Thembi Conner-Garcia, a physician at Heartland Community Clinic in Peoria, IL suggests, "Prior to exercising with a hernia, you need to consult with your doctor. Depending on the type, size and location of the hernia, restrictions will vary."

Exercising With a Hernia

Many people choose to live with their hernia as long as it doesn't pose any serious complications. Nonsurgical treatments and lifestyle changes have been shown to greatly reduce hernia discomfort, though they are only temporary solutions. Exercise can be helpful, oftentimes easing symptoms. It will help you burn calories and may reduce belly fat, which is beneficial to most hernias.

Exercise Modifications

Dr. Conner-Garcia explains, "For the most part, you can safely exercise with a hernia but some exercise modifications are usually needed." Modify your existing workout by reducing impact, intensity and or duration. Engage in moderate exercise and choose activities that don't put undue stress on your abdomen. Aerobic exercise will help you burn calories and manage your weight.

  • The stationary bike is a good choice. Opt for the recumbent bike. The sitting angle will prevent straining your abdomen and your core muscles will be supported. If you choose to use a spin bike or an outdoor bike, take it easy and remain in the seated position while you ride.
  • Swimming and water exercise are also safe ways to get your cardiovascular exercise in. These are no-impact workouts so the likelihood of straining yourself is particularly low. You want to be careful not to overdo it and avoid twisting motions that put pressure on your abdomen.
  • A walking program is another excellent choice. It's low impact in nature, again helping to reduce the chance of strain on your abs. Walking also builds core strength, which is very helpful in the prevention of hernias.

A 2012 experimental study published in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that certain yoga asanas were helpful in reversing inguinal hernias. Go for gentle yoga. Standing poses like the tree pose are good choices. Practicing deep abdominal breathing along with your yoga practice can also be helpful.

Exercises to Avoid

"In general, you should avoid exercises that require lifting a large amount of weight, excessive straining or anything that can increase your intra-abdominal pressure," explains Dr. Conner-Garcia.

Exercises to avoid include:

  • Heavy weightlifting that causes you to strain or grunt
  • Any pushing activities that cause you to strain or grunt
  • Any pulling activities that cause you to strain or grunt
  • Ballistic activities like kicking or punching

Those who play sports like soccer, ice hockey, rugby, football, wrestling, field hockey, tennis, or run track most frequently get sports hernias. These sports involve ballistic or high impact movement and movement that requires a quick change of direction. These are activities that should be avoided when you have a hernia.

Post Surgery Exercise

If you opt to have surgery on your hernia, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends that you allow about three weeks recovery time and engage in only light activity during this time. Wait until you hit the six week mark to start or resume strenuous exercise.

You definitely want to make core strengthening a priority during your workouts. Just be sure to do so slowly and gradually increase the intensity of exercise. Always monitor your body for signs of discomfort or changes in your incision. Also, if you experience pain, back off the exercise and note which exercise caused you pain so that you can avoid it and look for an alternative.

Keep in mind that your abdominal muscles will be sore after surgery but this will subside over time.

Core Strengthening

ACE recommends these modified exercises for strengthening your core:

  • Partial Crunch: Unlike traditional crunches, partial crunches don't focus on how high you flex your torso; instead, think about how much you tighten your abdominal muscles. You should only flex your torso a few inches while tightening your muscles. Start with one set of 15 repetitions (holding for a second at the top of the movement before descending) and slowly work your way up to three sets of 15.
  • Prone Plank: Adopt the top of the push-up position and pull upward and inward with the abdominal muscles while holding the plank for up to 30 seconds. Work up to three sets of 30-second holds, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
  • Lean Back: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Keeping your spine straight, slowly lean back until you feel your abdominal contracting to hold you in that inclined position (for most people this will be about 30 degrees of inclination). Hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Work up to three sets of 30-second holds, resting for 30 seconds between sets.

Exercise Safely

Be sure to follow your doctor's guidelines for safe and effective exercise. If you're new to exercise or unsure about the best exercise program, consult a physical therapist for guidance.

Be cautious, but don't shy away from physical activity. If done correctly, exercise will help you cope with your hernia and prepare you for surgery if you have to have it. It should definitely be a part of your prevention plan post-surgery.

Can You Exercise if You Have a Hernia?