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Hernia Treatment Techniques and Recovery Tips

April 28, 2023

Hernia is a relatively common condition in men – about 1 in 3 will develop a hernia over their lifetime. While it’s significantly less common in women – about 3% of women will develop a hernia – it’s good for everyone to educate themselves about symptoms, treatment and recovery. We visited with Benjamin Stone, MD, general surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System to learn more about hernias.

Commonly asked questions about hernia

Q: What is a hernia?

A: A hernia is a hole in the structural lining of the body wall. This hole may allow an organ, such as the intestines, to protrude into a space that can cause discomfort and injury to the herniated organ. About 75% of hernias occur in the groin, and about 90% of those will be in men.

Q: What are symptoms of hernia?

A: Symptoms of hernia show up differently for different people. You may be able to see or feel the bulge of a hernia or you may experience discomfort. For those who have discomfort, it too will vary from person to person. The discomfort may be minimal or it could affect your ability to engage in regular activities. For instance, you might look down while getting dressed and see a bulge that hadn’t been there before. That could be your first clue. For someone else, it might be discomfort that occurs during an activity where they’re straining even minimally. For others it can go from relatively minor discomfort – “letting me know it’s there” – to a point that it’s difficult to do certain things.

Q: What can cause a hernia?

A: Generally, hernias are caused by 1 of 3 things: genetics, anatomy and modifiable risk factors such as smoking or diabetes. However, because a hernia is a hole, much like tires or clothes, the more wear and tear that is put on it, over time can cause a hernia to develop. Lifting heavy objects or straining may expose you to an immediate risk for a hernia, but many factors come into play.

Q: Will a hernia heal on its own?

A: Occasionally a baby is born with a hernia. Up to about age 5, some hernias will heal on their own. Once we hit that age, the number of cells in our body that can find a problem and fix it goes down. So, after age 5, we don’t typically see hernias healing spontaneously.

Q: What options are available for hernia treatment?

A: Not all hernias require repair. For those that are not causing pain or discomfort, or that are not high-risk, your physician or surgeon may choose to carefully watch your hernia. For those that need repair, we do that surgically.

Most hernias can be repaired with less-invasive laparoscopic or robotic surgery. These procedures generally cause less pain, have fewer problems with infections and offer a quicker recovery for patients. If you have other health issues such as lung or heart concerns, you may not be a good candidate for robotic or laparoscopic surgery. In those instances, we will do open surgery for hernia repair.

Q: What can I expect after a hernia procedure?

A: Just 14-15 years ago, when I was finishing my training, we advised people to take it easy after surgery – relax, don’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. But what we’ve found is that people heal better and faster if they never lose their physical conditioning and their stamina for exercise. So, my patients are up and walking on the same day of their surgery, and they are supposed to walk a mile the next day. The day after that they walk 2 miles. Usually after that second day of walking, my patients tell me that pain and soreness are not a factor in their recovery.

To learn more about hernia diagnosis, treatment and recovery, or to schedule a surgery consultation, call 913-588-1227.

Gary Whitsel, Hernia-repair patient:
It's starting to get just a little bit more uncomfortable.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
Gary Whitsel has not one, but two hernias that need repair.

Gary Whitsel, Hernia-repair patient:
Well, I've kind of toned down on my heavy duty work the last couple weeks.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
We caught up with him as he was being prepped for surgery with Dr. Benjamin Stone.

Benjamin Stone, MD, Surgeon:
I'd like for you to give it two days where you're keeping things clean and dry.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
Dr. Stone has been repairing hernias for a long time. He does both laparoscopic and robotic procedures, each minimally invasive. He's found a way to dramatically cut down the pain and the recovery time, starting in the OR. He uses nerve blocks and specific operating techniques.

Benjamin Stone, MD, Surgeon:
Hernias and hernia repairs, even in the short 20 years that I've been in medicine, the management, the repair, the recovery has changed drastically. And it's not your grandfather's or even your father's repair.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
And there's one more thing that surprises patients; when they go home, they leave with a prescription from Dr. Stone that they can fill with their own two feet.

Benjamin Stone, MD, Surgeon:
I also ask him to start walking today as much as he can, and tomorrow morning he'll do a mile, and then the day after that, he'll do two miles. Usually after that second day of walking, most of my patients will tell me that pain and soreness really aren't a factor in their recovery.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
That was music to Gary's ears, who was eager to get started on the 45-minute procedure. Dr. Stone used the robotic method on Gary, which allows him to replicate the kind of motion that we have with our hands, only with more precision.

Benjamin Stone, MD, Surgeon:
I can see better robotically than I can with my own eyes. That's pretty good.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
That translates into less postoperative pain and quicker recovery.

Gary Whitsel, Hernia-repair patient:
Hey.

Speaker 4:
Are you loopy?

Gary Whitsel, Hernia-repair patient:
Just a little bit.

Bob Hallinan, Reporter voice over:
After the procedure, Gary was a little groggy, but said he was feeling great. Looking forward to going home the same day. Sure enough, Gary was following his doctor's orders the next day, out walking a mile, heading down the road to recovery.

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