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How to Treat a Groin Hernia

BY CHRISTA SGOBBA, JULY 24, 2015

You’re toweling off after your shower when your hand stops at something unexpected on your groin: a big, brand-new bulge—and not the kind you’d hope to find. 

This could be a hernia, which occurs when parts of your organs or tissues protrude out through a weakness in your abdominal wall. Approximately 27 percent of guys will experience some kind of groin hernia in their lifetime.

What the hell is happening down there? Here’s how to tell—and how to get rid of it.  

 

Groin Hernia Symptoms

Sometimes groin hernias—also known as inguinal hernias—don’t cause any symptoms at all. But in many cases, you’ll feel a lump in the crease where your leg meets your pelvis.

Usually, the stuff pushing its way up against your skin is fat or intestines, so the bulge can feel a bit squishy. And it’ll also be reducible, meaning that when you’re lying down, you should be able to press the lump back into your body, says Peter L. Geller, M.D., the director of the Columbia University Hernia Center. (This sets hernias apart from more serious conditions like cancerous lymph nodes, which can pop up as lumps in the groin area, too.)

You may also feel pain or a heavy sensation in the area around the hernia, especially when you’re straining, coughing, or exercising. 

How Did I Get a Groin Hernia? 

Hernias develop due to a weakness in muscles or fascia, a thin sheath of connective tissue. But even if you regularly work your core at the gym, you’re still vulnerable.

“Being in good shape doesn’t prevent someone from getting a hernia,” Dr. Geller says. “There are regions of the abdominal wall—like the inguinal area—where there’s no muscle. Even if people exercise and develop the rest of their abdominal wall, these areas remain weak.”

Despite what you may have heard, heavy lifting doesn’t quite give you a hernia. “Strenuous activity may bring on a hernia, but only in people who are already predisposed to it,” says Dr. Geller.  

As a guy, that means you. And you can thank your anatomy for it: When you were a fetus, your testicles descended from an area in your abdominal cavity down to your scrotum. They were able to do so because a space there didn’t contain any muscle to hold them back—only fascia. This left your groin area vulnerable to hernia development.

People can be born with incomplete formation of their abdominal walls, which puts them at greater risk of developing a hernia down the line. But the unavoidable process of aging likely plays a role, too.

That’s because as you get older, the quality of your collagen—proteins in your body that give your connective tissue flexibility—declines. And this weakness makes it easier for a hernia to develop and push through, says Dr. Geller.

People with a family history of groin hernias, as well as those who smoke or suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may also be at greater risk. 

How to Treat a Groin Hernia

If you feel a bulge on your groin, or experience pain or any other kind of discomfort there, see your doctor.  He or she will perform a physical exam, and may also order tests like CT scans or ultrasounds to nail down the diagnosis.

The treatment for hernias that cause symptoms is usually surgery, says Dr. Geller. Your doc will reinforce your abdominal wall to make it stronger, so its contents don’t poke through again.

But if your hernia doesn’t bother you—and you’d rather not go under the knife right away—you can take a wait-and-see approach, Dr. Geller says.  

Your doc will check in with you after 6 months to a year to see if the hernia has grown larger or if you’ve started to feel any pain. If either of those happens, you’ll likely be told to have surgery.