Can Yoga Heal Hernias?

Yoga poses might help take the pressure off the abdominal wall.

Every year more than 500,000 American men—almost one in 20—develop a hernia. A hernia is when part of the intestine bulges through a tear in muscles in the abdomen and typically occurs two ways: wear and tear over time or from weakness in the abdominal wall that is present at birth. More than 70 percent of all hernias are diagnosed as inguinal hernias. This is where the intestines push through a weak spot in the inguinal canal, which is located in the groin area between the pubis and the top of the leg.

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Symptoms may include one or more of the following: a lump in the groin near the thigh, pain in the groin, and, in severe cases, partial or complete blockage of the intestine. The good news is that most hernias—including inguinal hernias—are easily treatable, but unfortunately surgery is the only way to repair the opening in the muscle wall, according to Yona Barash, M.D., medical director of the Northern California Hernia Institute in Carmichael, California.

Nonsurgical treatments and lifestyle changes have been used successfully to reduce hernia discomfort but are only temporary solutions. These include dieting if you're overweight in the abdomen area; eating more fiber to maintain regular bowel movements and reduce straining; learning to properly lift heavy objects by bending from the knees and not the back; and not standing for long periods.

Yet once a hernia develops, it is important to keep it reduced to avoid the risk of bowel strangulation, says Barash, and it's here that yoga poses might help. "Using gravity to take the pressure off the defect in the abdominal wall is an important method," he says. "Inversions can do this and also be helpful in alleviating the symptoms and placing the hernia back in the abdomen." But again, this is only a short-term measure. Once the damage is done, your best bet is to see your physician to get a complete diagnosis and review surgery options.