Aged 60, Anthony, who was working as a mowing contractor, decided in March 2008 that it was time to get fit again. He renewed his gym subscription and started back on weights. Shortly after trying to bench 220 lbs (100 kg) for the first time in 15 years, he developed a pain in his right groin, which was diagnosed as an inguinal hernia. Anthony’s doctor booked him in for hernia repair surgery, which was to be carried out in September.
While awaiting surgery, Anthony consulted a homeopath and osteopath. The osteopath gave Anthony simple exercises for strengthening his transverse abdominal muscles.
Anthony stopped all other forms of exercise, gave up his mowing job, and avoided stretching and lifting anything heavier than 4-6 lbs for about three months. He ordered a hernia support garment as this had a guarantee to keep the hernia in during all activities.
When the hernia first appeared, it would pop out 10 times a day, just from walking around or standing in the shower. This stopped when Anthony started wearing the hernia support. In May it emerged again when he tried doing some push-ups without wearing the hernia support, so he went back to wearing it for a couple of hours a day.
By June the hernia appeared to be under control, and Anthony felt confident enough to start doing some mild aerobic exercises and strength training at home. He also began doing some work on his tractor which involved a certain amount of straining. When doing these activities Anthony wore his hernia support, which he found gave him a feeling of security and took much of the tentativeness out of his daily activities.
By September the hernia had improved so much that Anthony postponed the surgery for three months. To check that the hernia really had gone, he went for an ultrasound examination. This showed that nothing remained but a small enlargement of the deep end of the inguinal canal. The doctor asked him to strain as hard as he could; this forced just a small amount of fat into the deep end, but no bowel, and there was no protrusion.
Roy, aged 58 in 2005, was working as a window-cleaner and was also an Ironman athlete. The Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance races organised by the World Triathlon Corporation, consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile marathon run. This gruelling event requires months of intensive training and an extraordinary degree of fitness.
Roy had taken part in ten Ironman Triathlons, but sadly could do no more, as he had developed a small inguinal hernia. Roy knew two people who were still suffering complications years after hernia surgery, so he had decided against the operation.
However in January 2006 Roy met Craig, who had cured his own hernia by means of diet, herbs, Pilates exercises and also wearing a hernia support garment. Roy was keen to see if he could replicate Craig’s success, so in the middle of January he started to attend Pilates classes with Craig, and began wearing the hernia support.
Roy kept a diary to monitor his progress. After a month he reported that he was feeling fitter, healthier and more toned around the lower abdomen and pelvic area. He decided to run the Dover half marathon on 19th February, and completed it in 1 hour 35 minutes–his best time for several years. Roy felt so encouraged that he was keen to start training for another Ironman Triathlon.
Swimming forms part of the Ironman programme, but Roy’s hernia had up till now caused discomfort during swimming–a feeling of a “pull” in the groin area. Towards the end of February he felt confident enough to swim a fairly hard 2,000 metres, while wearing his hernia support. He was amazed to find that there was no discomfort at all.
So in March, Roy began a gruelling 16-week training schedule in preparation for the Quelle Challenge Triathlon which was to take place on 2nd July 2006. He had to build up to 15-20 hours training per week. As Roy was approaching 60 years of age and had not done an Ironman for two years, he was not sure he would be able to do this training without aggravating his hernia, but by now he had largely forgotten about it, as the bulge was no longer appearing. To be on the safe side he kept up his Pilates exercises and wearing his hernia support.
The Ironman is the largest mass participation triathlon on the planet: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. When the day arrived Roy began at 7.20am. Here is his report:
“The swim was comfortable, but slow. Had a good bike, taking it easy ready for the marathon. Ran 4,456 metres. Total time: 13hr 2 mins. Placed 1,656 out of some 4,000 starters, 26th in my age group. I don’t think I would have been able to put in the training successfully without the help of my Pilates exercises and wearing my hernia support (although it was not practical to wear it on race day). I felt better prepared for this race than most of my previous ten Ironmen and seemed to suffer no ill effects.”
In September 2008 Roy reported that he had not worn his hernia support for some time, was still very active, and had no trace of a hernia. He considers himself fully healed.
A Question-Mark Over Surgery
Researchers in the US, UK, Sweden and other countries have measured the rate of long-term complications after hernia repair surgery. It’s not good news. For instance Loos and colleagues in the Netherlands found that of 1,766 men followed-up for three years by questionnaire, 40.2 per cent were still suffering some degree of pain, and 1.9 per cent experienced severe pain. One-fifth of the patients felt that their work or leisure activities were impaired.
Some surgeons are very concerned that patients are being routinely sent for this surgery even though their hernia may be quite small and painless. The policy of early surgery is intended to prevent a hernia from progressing and avoid the risk of it becoming “strangulated”–an emergency situation. But it has now been shown that strangulation is not very common. Many surgeons now follow a policy of “Watchful Waiting” (monitoring) a hernia instead of offering immediate surgery. In the UK elective hernia repair surgery has been reclassified as “low priority” by a growing number of regional health policy-makers.
What do men like Anthony and Roy who have healed their own inguinal hernias have in common? On websites devoted to non-surgical alternatives the most frequently successful alternative system seems to be a programme of exercises such as Pilates to strengthen the abdominal area. Next in importance comes the wearing of a hernia support garment to keep the hernia “in”. This is crucial. If the hernia is allowed to remain protruding, it will prevent the gap in the abdominal wall from healing up.
Nowadays most doctors and surgeons do not prescribe trusses, and some positively discourage them. Even today some trusses use metal springs to apply pressure to the hernia, via a pad which can be quite hard, and which presses into the hernia. This protrusion can cause scar tissue to form around the hernia’s edges, which prevents them from knitting together and healing. In order to keep the hernia in, the pad needs to remain in contact with it at all times, and during all activities. Most trusses cannot follow body movement and so fail to do this.
A hernia support should fit well, be comfortable, keep the hernia in at all times, and be free of springs or pads that bulge inwards. It should have a guarantee to hold a groin hernia in, even during sport and heavy manual labour, and should have a money-back guarantee. Also watch out for hernia supports with metal components as these can set off alarms in airports. The best type of hernia support consists of an elastic belt with rigid flat pads that slide together in such a way that the hernia area is supported at all times.
To cure your own inguinal hernia isn’t such a new idea. After all, A famous 19th century German clinic known as the Bilz Clinic, considered that hernia cures were commonplace, and recommended simple exercises, mineral baths and the conscientious wearing of a hernia truss or support until the hernia was cured.