Yes, hernias run in the family. In fact, in my professional experience, I have noticed that having a female in your family who had a hernia is a stronger risk factor for hernia formation than if a male in your family had a hernia.
To date, some research has been done on the underlying genetic predisposition to hernias. Unfortunately, not many resources are devoted to the study of hernias. We know that in most patients, there is an underlying tissue problem in those with hernias. For example, there may be an imbalance of collagen, with more of the Type III, immature, weaker, collagen, and less of the Type I collagen, which is more mature and stronger. Also, their collagen is laid in a pattern that is not organized. In others, there may be a deficit in the matrix metalloproteinase.
Sorry, men…you are at a greater risk of inguinal hernia than women. The same is not true of other types of hernias. Most of us believe it is based on pure physics: the male pelvis is narrower than the female, thus more downward gravitational force is focused on the groin region.
To date, there is no evidence that race or ethnicity has any correlation with developing a hernia.
A low fiber diet may result in constipation and straining with bowel movements. This increase in abdominal pressure increases your risk of hernia. Read our Preoperative Instructions booklet for a list of non-prescription remedies to prevent constipation.
Most of us herniologists agree that being obese, or morbidly obese increases your risk of hernia formation. While no study has yet proven that obese patients have more hernias, studies have shown that weight is very closely related to risk of incisional hernia occurrence after an operation, including a higher recurrence rate after hernia surgery. Thus, if you are having abdominal surgery or hernia surgery, it is very much to your benefit to be as close to your ideal weight for your height as possible, with body mass index no more than 30kg/m2.
Visit the BMI Calculator here.
Good news! Exercise can protect against forming a hernia. Here is how it works: if you strengthen your core abdominal muscles (rectus, transversus, obliques), you are preventing the naturally occurring holes in the body from stretching out. Also, almost all exercises have been shown to be safe, without any increase in abdominal pressure. So, feel free to do situps, pullups, weight lifting, treadmill, cycling, running, hiking, or nearly any physical activity you prefer. Yoga and Pilates are especially good options for core abdominal muscle strengthening. If you are diagnosed with a hernia, please do NOT stop exercising. This will only worsen your problem, causing weakening of your muscles, weight gain, and thus even more stretching out of your hernia. Even after surgery, I strongly recommend that these exercises be performed to keep your weight down and keep your muscles (and therefore your surgery repair) strong. NOTE: Only a few exercises were shown in studies to increase abdominal pressure and thus may not be recommended for hernias: these include leg squats and jumping (think: No Cross-fit). If you are prone to hernias, have a hernia, or just had hernia surgery, take leg squats and jumping out of your exercise routine!
Work-related injuries are often associated with hernia development. When lifting heavy weights on a regular basis, especially while at work, it is possible that you are increasing your risk of getting a hernia. Interestingly, this is not true of heavy lifting at the gym or as a form of exercise. We just showed that exercises that involve weights are protective of hernias. Is that conflicting? Well, most people who lift at work or at home – outside of an exercise regimen – often do it without engaging the abdominal muscles. The back and abdomen are both left at risk for excessive pressure. If you do have to lift at work, engage the abdominal muscles (tuck in your abdomen) and tilt the pelvis under. This will help protect the naturally occurring holes in your body from splaying open.