Is Hernia Treatment Without Surgery Possible?

Woman with hernia touching her abdomen.

Hernias occur when tissue inside the abdominal cavity pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall. There are different types of hernias, depending on where the protrusion occurs and other factors. Severe hernias can cause serious health risks, even death, and require surgery to repair the weak spot in the abdomen. But many patients wonder if hernia treatment without surgery is possible. The answer varies, depending on the location/type of the hernia, the severity, the age of the patient and other factors.

What Is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs in the lower abdomen when part of the small intestine or fatty tissue protrudes through an opening or weak area. The most common area for an inguinal hernia is in the groin – femoral hernias can also occur in the groin. Inguinal hernias can be caused by a congenital birth defect (direct) or weakness in the abdominal wall from strain or other factors (indirect). There is a serious risk of an inguinal hernia becoming incarcerated or strangulated, which can require emergency treatment and surgery.

How do you know if you have an inguinal hernia? The most common sign is a bulge in the groin, usually above the crease between the leg and pelvis. The bulge usually will disappear when lying down. Pain may be felt when exerting strain on the abdomen, such as performing heavy lifting or coughing. Not all hernias cause pain, and the bulge may come and go. If the pain becomes severe combined with constipation, fever, vomiting or the bulge turns dark in color, the hernia may be strangulated, and you should seek immediate medical attention.

Is There Inguinal Hernia Treatment Without Surgery?

In the case of an inguinal hernia, self-healing does not occur and they require surgery, as they do not go away on their own. Both direct and indirect inguinal hernias can cause serious, life-threatening complications. There are people who have lived with an inguinal hernia for years without complications, but it is always a possible risk. These hernias can be monitored – some doctors may use manipulation to push the abdominal tissue back into the abdominal cavity. It is important to note that the hernia is not gone just because it is not bulging or causing pain. Surgery is the only way to permanently treat and repair an inguinal hernia.

What Is an Umbilical Hernia?

Umbilical hernias are another common type of hernia. The belly button or where the umbilical cord exited the body is a weak area in the abdominal wall. Most infant umbilical openings heal quickly and there are no problems once this weak area in the abdomen is healed and the muscles close together. For some, the umbilical opening remains a weak spot where fatty tissue, intestines or organs can push through an opening in the abdominal muscles. This can occur in childhood or as an adult.

Symptoms of an umbilical hernia are similar to an inguinal hernia, but in a different location. There may be a bulge near the belly button that disappears when you lay down. There may be pain at the site, especially when coughing or straining the abdomen. Umbilical hernias can become incarcerated or strangulated. If there is severe pain at the hernia site, constipation or vomiting, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Is There Umbilical Hernia Treatment Without Surgery?

Infants with an umbilical hernia may not require treatment or surgery. The gap between the abdomen muscles at the navel can close over time, eliminating the hernia. In a child’s umbilical hernia, self-healing usually occurs by age 3-4. However, even if a noticeable hernia is not present, that area in the abdomen may remain weak. Weight gain, abdominal strain and pregnancies as an adult can be risk factors for umbilical hernias, which do require surgery for effective treatment.
A runner man suffering from inguinal hernia.

Do I Need Surgery for My Inguinal or Umbilical Hernia?

Both inguinal and umbilical hernias in adults do not disappear on their own. As long as the weakness exists, there are risks of a complication from a hernia. Umbilical or inguinal hernia treatment without surgery may include lifestyle changes such as losing weight or controlling constipation to reduce risks of the hernia complications, but it does not repair the hernia. The only way to eliminate possible complications from a hernia is through surgical repair, but often it can be performed with minimally-invasive methods for quick recovery.

If you or your child have symptoms of an umbilical or inguinal hernia, treatment without surgery is rarely an option. To determine whether you need hernia treatment or surgery, you should have your hernia examined by a hernia specialist. Your physician or hernia surgeon can discuss the treatment options available, including types of hernia repairs through surgery. The good news is that with hernia repair surgery, you can eliminate symptoms and risks of complications that could seriously impact your health.