Hard lessons learned from a simple hernia!

In July, my husband suddenly developed an inguinal hernia. Still in recovery from a sprained ankle sustained while visiting family in New Zealand a few months earlier, he was diligently performing physio exercises to strengthen that leg in the proper alignment.

Lesson 1: Steep, wet, sheep pasture is hazardous terrain!

The particular exercise involved getting up seated position in a chair, using just the affected leg to push up on – lots of work for the abdominal muscles on that side! He felt a popping sensation and later that day, noticed a bulge just above the groin area on that side. 

Lesson 2: It may be wise to cheat a little if a prescribed exercise is really hard work, and you feel you are only just able to do it.

We soon figured out that it was an inquinal hernia, large enough to need surgical repair. Turns out men are at particular risk for inquinal hernias, because around the time of birth the testes descend through the inquinal canal into the scrotum. Not uncommonly, the canal does not close up properly, leaving a weak area through which the small intestine can protrude (Indirect inguinal hernia). As men age, connective tissue degeneration causes the muscles of abdominal wall to weaken. These are called direct hernias and may be triggered by muscle strains, sudden twisting or pulling, lifting heavy things, straining on the toilet when constipated, gaining weight, or requent coughing.

Often the bowel can be pushed back through the inquinal canal, but gravity will cause it to continue to slide out unless it can be secured into position. If the bowel becomes trapped in the groin or scrotum, it may became strangulated, causing nausea, vomiting, and serious infection. This could be life-threatening.

My husband was fortunate in getting surgery right away. It was a 4″ cut, and a special mesh was inserted to strengthen the area. He recovered well, and was off the pain killers and stool softeners after just a couple of days. Once again, he was diligent about drinking a lot of green smoothies, prune juice and Calm – the powdered magnesium supplement that makes a great natural laxative. However he was so keen to get back in shape that he decided to begin  interval training (Al Sears’ PACE program) – running hard for 30 seconds, at intervals during a walk around the neighborhood. After all the surgeon had checked the incision and said he could run! This was a bad idea; suddenly he had more than just the healing ridge.  The strain on the area had caused some bleeding forming a hematoma.

Lesson 3: Running all-out puts a big stress on the whole body. Don’t do this soon after surgery! Gentle walking is best for several months. Muscles are like concrete in that it takes a long time for them to heal and “set” properly. Our PT warns it will be a full year before the affected muscles are fully healed.

Lesson 4: The healing ridge and hematoma are walled off areas that the body cannot readily supply with blood, and the supply and removal of nutrients, and waste. It is important to massage this area, moving the lump up and down and sidewise to open it up and help the fluids move through to aid the healing process. You can speed the healing of the scar and normalize the energy flow through that area by topical application of Vitamin E oil, sesame oil or wheat germ oil.

At home we have a small hand-held infrared light, called DPL® NüveSystem, that I’ve used as pain therapy. My husband started using this on the area for 20 minutes twice a day, and almost immediately noticed the lump softened and has finally grown smaller over the past 2 months. Another issue that surfaced was pain in the joint of his big toe, along with puffiness in the ball of that foot.  Where did that come from?

Our  PT took one look at him and realized his entire body was twisted in several different directions. For more than two years he had been doing Pilates for 6 hours a week, so his core muscles were very well developed. We did not think of this when the surgeon wanted to do open surgery rather than laparoscopic; he said he could do a better job by having the area fully visible.  By cutting into one side of the abdominal muscle girdle only, the strong side naturally torqued his pelvis around.  The misalignment, coupled with the congested area around the surgery, was causing blood and lymph to pool in his foot, and put stress on the toe joint. 

Lesson 4: Maybe doing a hernia repair on both sides would have made a lot of sense in this case – when his abdominal muscles were so strong.  It was offered, but we deemed it unnecessary. The surgeon claims the repaired side will be a lot stronger than the other, once it’s completely healed – and the other side could well rupture then!

So –  three months after surgery, this busy man must add infrared treatments and PT exercises to his full days, to keep more problems at bay while regaining his health. The exercises work to keep both sides of the pelvis moving freely around the pubic symphysis. He also visits the PT regularly, and is learning more than he ever wanted to know about total body integration and what it takes to stay mobile and painfree in one’s sixties!