Recovering from a hernia operation

Are you about to have hernia surgery? Here’s what to expect in the weeks following the operation.

A hernia is an abnormal protrusion of an internal part of the body - often the large intestine - through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall. It can usually be seen as a lump around the abdomen, groin or upper thigh area, though may disappear when lying down or pushed back in.1 There are various types of hernias including:

Hernias require an operation to treat properly - other than symptomatic relief, there are no real alternatives to completely rectify the problem.2 

How urgently you need surgery will depend on the nature of the hernia itself. In any case, it is recommended that you seek advice from your GP as soon as you can, to work out the best course of action. If you experience fever, blood in your stools, or the hernia itself feels hot, hard and tender or suddenly painful, you must see a GP immediately, or go to A&E.

Once you’ve had the operation to treat your hernia, there are various things you can do to make your recovery more successful and less painful, and return to normality that little bit sooner.

Initial recovery

You need to stay with another adult for 24 hours after your operation, in case any problems develop in the immediate aftermath. You should be able to go home on the day of your operation, although someone must be with you in the car or taxi. Make sure you follow any instructions given by the doctors or nurses. 

This includes any advice on caring for the wound, and on hygiene and bathing. If you had the operation under general anaesthetic, you should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 48 hours afterwards, as well as operating heavy machinery or signing legal documents, as your reasoning and coordination may be impaired.4

Getting back to normal

You may experience some pain in the first few days after the operation, so continued use of any painkillers advised by the hospital will ease this. 

If you’re finding it uncomfortable when you cough, sneeze, sit or stand, you can try applying gentle pressure to the wound as you do so, with your hand or a small cushion. Some people can find that constipation can cause pain in the wound. 

Hernia recovery

To make this less likely, drink plenty of water and eat high-fibre foods, including fruit, vegetables and whole grains. If necessary, a mild, over-the-counter laxative is also an option. 

Gentle exercise, like walking, may aid your recovery, but you must avoid any heavy lifting or other demanding activities for around four to six weeks. Again, your doctor will be able to give more advice on this.4

Driving and returning to work

As you find yourself able to do more tasks without pain, you will gradually be able to return to your normal activities. Most people find they’re able to go back to light activities after one or two weeks. This may also mean you can go back to work in a similar time frame, though you might need longer if your job involves a lot of lifting and carrying, or other manual labour. As for driving, a good indication of being ready to do so again is to practise an emergency stop, which you can do without starting the car. 

If you don’t experience any pain, you should be fine to get back on the road, but speak to your doctor for specific advice. It is also recommended you speak to your car insurance provider too.4

For more information and advice on treatment and recovery for hernias, read what three of our consultant general surgeons have to say in this Q&A.

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