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Can a hernia cause back pain? (And how PT can help)

3 minutes, 46 seconds

A hernia is often associated with issues near the abdominal muscles. But many people don’t realize that it can cause issues throughout different parts of the body, including the back. That’s because there’s a variety of hernia types, several of which can result in back pain

Read on to learn about the fundamentals of hernias, how they can trigger back pain, and how physical therapy can help alleviate it.

What is a hernia?

A hernia refers to the bulging of tissue or an organ through the barrier that contains it. It’s caused by a weakness in the abdominal wall, often combined with excessive strain or weight.

There aren’t always prevalent symptoms, but signs of a hernia include:

  • A bulge under the skin.
  • Swelling.
  • Pain.
  • Tenderness.

There are several types of hernias based on the location of the bulge including: 

  • Inguinal hernia (inner groin).
  • Femoral hernia (outer groin).
  • Hiatal hernia (upper stomach).
  • Umbilical hernia (belly button).
  • Incisional hernia (resulting from a surgical incision).

Some hernia types are more common than others. The most common type is the inguinal hernia, which occurs near the groin when a part of the small intestine bulges through the abdominal muscles. It can affect about 27% of men and 3% of women in their lifetime.

How does a hernia cause back pain?

Most hernias can have back pain as a symptom if the bulging hernia presses against the spine. But there are only a couple of hernias that will have back pain as one of the main signs.

The hernia type that’s most likely to cause an ache in your back is a spinal hernia. Also called a herniated or slipped disc, a spinal hernia occurs when a part of the nucleus of a spinal disc is pushed out through a tear in the exterior, called the annulus. When the disc is pushed against the spinal nerve, you could experience pain, tingling or numbness. 

A spinal hernia is most common in the lower back and is usually caused by excessive strain. General wear and tear while you age can also result in a herniated disc.

A lumbar hernia, also called a flank hernia, is more rare; it only makes up about 1.5% of all abdominal hernia cases. It refers to a protrusion in the back between your bottom ribs and hip bone, known as the lumbar triangle. It can cause lower back pain and discomfort, especially while coughing.

3 physical therapy techniques that can help back pain caused by a hernia

Physical therapy is a great treatment option for back pain caused by hernias, especially for a herniated disc. The goal is to not only help with your pain management, but also to strengthen the muscles surrounding the hernia to decrease the pressure. 

Since some hernias will require surgery, physical therapy can help prepare your body before the operation to decrease your discomfort as much as possible. And while it may seem like your pain should be completely resolved after a hernia operation, there’s a recovery process as well. It’s important to properly recover from hernia surgery by restoring your body’s strength and flexibility as well as alleviating scar tissue.

There are several physical therapy techniques to alleviate back pain caused by a hernia, as well as pre- and post-op hernia recovery, including: 

  1. Manual therapy — One of the best ways to tackle back pain is with hands-on pressure. A physical therapist can use their hands for manual therapy techniques like soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization to loosen up the scar tissue around the hernia. By breaking up the tissue, they can release the painful tension and decrease pressure on the spine.
  2. Myokinesthetic therapy — The nervous system plays a huge role in back pain from a hernia, as the ache is caused by the bulge putting pressure on the spinal nerve. Myokinesthetic therapy tackles areas of pain in the nervous system to reduce back pain and increase mobility.
  3. Exercises — It’s important to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding your hernia to decrease the pressure on the spinal nerve as well as increase the support of your spine. A physical therapist can show you how to safely and effectively execute exercises to reduce your back pain with a customized program to fit your body’s capabilities. Exercising is especially important for surgical rehab in order to restore your body’s strength, flexibility and range of motion.

Alliance PTP can help find expert physical therapists near you to address back pain caused by a hernia

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address back pain caused by a hernia.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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