Although snow-covered fields do create a pristine wonderland, this season of snow can also negatively impact your job in many ways. Poor driving conditions may lead to accidents, road closures, and damage. Lifting heavy shovels of snow to clear pathways to your rig, load, or customer, may lead to a painful health concern – an inguinal hernia.
An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue from the abdominal cavity, like intestines, protrude through a weak spot in the lower abdominal muscles (inguinal canal).
Although this weak spot may be pre-existing (if the abdominal wall doesn’t close properly at birth), inguinal hernias may also be the result of heavy lifting, strenuous activities, chronic coughing or sneezing, aging, injury, previous surgery, or increased internal abdominal pressure.
Often inguinal hernias remain undiagnosed. Only two-thirds of affected people recognize they have some or all of the following symptoms: a bulge in the area on either side of their pubic bone, which becomes more obvious when they’re upright, especially when coughing or straining; a burning or aching sensation at the location of the bulge; pain, discomfort, or a dragging or heavy feeling in their groin, especially when bending over, coughing, straining, or heavy lifting; or weakness or pressure in their groin. As well, men may experience pain and swelling around the testicles if the protruding intestine descends into the scrotum.
The size of the bulge may fluctuate, depending on the person’s activity level. Discomfort levels often worsen during the day, but reduce when lying down.
You are more likely to develop an inguinal hernia if you smoke or engage in heavy lifting; or if you are male, Caucasian, or overweight; or if you have a family history of hernias, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), collagen vascular disease, or chronic cough or constipation; or if you had a premature birth, low birth weight, or previous abdominal surgery.
Although you can’t avoid the hereditary predisposition for developing an inguinal hernia, making the following changes will help reduce unnecessary strain on your abdominal muscles and tissues. Include lots of high-fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) in your diet to prevent constipation and straining. Maintain a healthy weight by following an effective exercise and diet plan. Stop smoking to avoid a chronic cough that aggravates a weakened abdominal wall. Lift heavy objects carefully and from the knees. Employ mechanical devices or colleagues to help support and transport heavy loads.
Usually, inguinal hernias aren’t dangerous. In mild cases, you should be able to help resolve a hernia by gently pushing the bulging tissue back into your abdomen when lying down. To enable the hernia to slide back easily, lie with your pelvis higher than your head and apply an ice pack to the area to reduce swelling. For temporary abdominal support, you may apply a hernia truss for the short term to stay comfortable before a surgical repair. However, note that a truss will not correct a hernia or prevent complications.
If the bulge does not slide back into your abdomen, life-threatening complications may occur. Over time, contents of the abdominal cavity (intestines) can descend into the hernia and become trapped or pinched, causing an obstruction – an incarcerated hernia. If the blood supply to those trapped tissues becomes compromised, the tissues can become ischemic – a strangulated hernia.
Since a strangulated hernia is very uncomfortable or painful, and could be fatal, it must not be ignored. Signs and symptoms include: fever; nausea and/or vomiting; a hernia bulge that turns red, purple or dark; a sudden abdominal pain that quickly intensifies; and/or the inability to move your bowels or pass gas. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs or symptoms. Immediate surgery is probably required.
Avoid this gut-wrenching condition this winter. While clearing a path through snow, or engaging in other heavy lifting, remember to manage the load. Wishing you a healthy New Year!
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at email@example.com.