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Recovering from a hernia operation

Are you about to have hernia surgery? Here’s what to expect in the weeks following your operation, including advice from Mr Simon Radley, our Consultant general surgeon from BMI The Priory Hospital and BMI The Droitwich Spa Hospital. Discover answers to common questions about the recovery period, along with the things you can do to help you get back to normal as soon as possible.

What does hernia repair surgery involve?

Depending on your individual circumstances, a hernia can be repaired using either open surgery or laparoscopic (‘keyhole’) surgery. Open surgery may be performed under general or local anaesthetic, while laparoscopic surgery is often carried out using general anaesthetic.

How long will I be in hospital?

You will most likely be able to go home on the same day or the day after your operation. It’s also a good idea to arrange for a friend or family member to accompany you in the car or taxi on your way home. They will also need to stay with you for the first 24 hours just in case any problems occur.

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor or nurse will give you advice on how to look after yourself, including caring for your wound, hygiene and bathing. Following their advice carefully will help to aid your recovery.

Remember, if you had your surgery under general anaesthetic, you should avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours afterwards and should not operate heavy machinery or sign any legal documents. General anaesthetic can affect your memory, concentration and reflexes for up to two days.

The different types of hernia

There are various types of hernia, the most common being:

  • Inguinal hernia
  • Femoral hernia
  • Paraumbilical and umbilical hernia
  • Epigastric hernia
  • Sports hernia

Will I be in any pain after my hernia surgery?

You may still be in some pain after your surgery. Before you leave the hospital, your doctor or nurse will give you advice on the safe use of painkillers.

If you experience pain during movement or when coughing or sneezing, applying gentle pressure to the wound may help to relieve your discomfort.

If you have to strain to go to the toilet, you may feel pain around your wound. Avoid constipation by drinking lots of fluids and eating foods that are high in fibre. A mild, over-the-counter laxative can help too if necessary.

Examples of high fibre foods

Eating a diet rich in high fibre foods may reduce your risk of constipation. Examples include:

  • Fruits such as berries, pears, melons and oranges
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and sweetcorn
  • Wholegrain cereals, brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta
  • Peas, beans and pulses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Skin-on potatoes

Can I exercise after my hernia repair surgery?

Gentle exercise such as walking can help the recovery process, but this should be balanced with rest, and you should stop if you are in pain.2

As your pain lessens you should gradually be able to get back to your normal activities. Most people find they are able to do light activities, such as shopping, after one or two weeks.

Strenuous activities and heavy lifting should be avoided for at least four to six weeks.

When can I drive after my hernia surgery?

It’s best to speak to your medical practitioner about when it’s safe for you to get back in the driving seat. You will normally be OK to drive after a couple of weeks, but recovery is different for everyone.

As a general rule, you should avoid driving until you are able to perform an emergency stop without pain or discomfort. You can practise this without actually starting your car.

You should also contact your car insurance company before you start driving again, just in case.

When can I go back to work after my hernia surgery?

Many people feel able to return to work after one or two weeks. However, if your job involves manual labour you will likely need more time off work.

How can I prevent my hernia from returning?

Mr Simon Radley from BMI The Priory Hospital and BMI The Droitwich Spa Hospital offers his advice on simple lifestyle changes that may reduce the likelihood of your hernia returning.

You can’t prevent the weakness in the abdominal wall that leads to you getting a hernia. However, not smoking, avoiding constipation and maintaining a healthy weight should reduce the risk. 

Smoking can cause coughing, which can put pressure on your abdomen and lead to a hernia or worsen the symptoms if you already have one.

Constipation can lead to straining, which increases pressure on the abdominal wall. You can avoid constipation by maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and fibre as well drinking plenty of fluids.

Obesity places the abdominal wall under constant pressure from excessive body fat. Losing weight can reduce your risk of developing a hernia. If you already have a hernia and need an operation, maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the risk of a hernia coming back after it has been repaired.

Being physically active may help to prevent hernias, but certain types of exercise can put too much pressure on your abdomen.

Beneficial exercises which strengthen the core may include:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Sit-ups or crunches
  • Light weights
  • Aerobic activities such as running or cycling

Any type of exercise that involves very high levels of exertion can actually increase your hernia risk. Avoid high impact activities such as jumping or exercises such as squats or weight lifting, which can increase pressure on the abdominal wall. Fast or sudden twisting movements can also lead to muscle tearing.

If you have a hernia or have recently had one repaired you should talk to your doctor, physiotherapist or personal trainer about any exercise that you’re considering.

If you already have a hernia or have had a hernia repaired previously you may be able to prevent it from getting worse or coming back if you follow these five simple points:

  • Avoid heavy lifting if possible
  • If you need to lift heavy objects, use your legs and not your back
  • Don’t get constipated or have to strain during a bowel movement
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke

If you have had a recent abdominal operation, following the above advice can also help to prevent you developing an incisional hernia at the operation site.


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