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by Elaine K Howley

September 5, 2023

Wound care is first priority, the rest depends on your individual case

Swimmers are fortunate in that the sport forces you to work your core muscles all the time, meaning swimmers typically have strong abdominal muscles and plenty of core strength. But even swimmers can develop a hernia, an injury where a small section of the intestine protrudes outward via a gap in the muscular wall of the abdomen. These bulges usually occur in the belly or groin area, and they may be visible from the outside.

Hernias typically occur when you’re straining while lifting something heavy. These injuries are very common, especially in men over age 40, the National Institutes of Health reports. Coughing, jumping, or straining puts pressure on the lower abdomen, where hernias are the most likely to develop, and it’s often during these activities that you might first feel the symptoms of a hernia—soreness, increased pressure, and the development of a small bulge noticeable on the skin.

While some hernias can be harmless, others can cause pain or become uncomfortable. Most need to be repaired. Some can become life threatening if the hernia becomes strangulated and its blood supply is cut off. Hernia surgery might seem scary, but it’s super common; more than 800,000 hernia repair surgeries are performed in America annually.

In any instance, it’s important to visit your doctor if you think you’ve developed a hernia. Your doctor will likely discuss surgery with you, and if that happens, you may be wondering how long you’ll have to stay out of the water and when you can get back to your regularly scheduled Masters workout.

The short answer is: it depends. As with any type of surgical procedure, infection is a primary concern with hernia repair surgery, and most doctors will advise you to wait at least two weeks before getting the wound wet. Depending on the location of the hernia, the size of the incision, and how conservative your doctor is with recommendations, you may be told to steer clear of the water for at least a month to ensure the risk of infection has completely passed.

You should also avoid strenuous exercise or heavy lifting for six weeks or longer, according to your doctor’s orders. But when it comes to most activities that don’t involve heavy weights, you should be good to go after about four weeks.

Most people find that they can return to work within one to two weeks of surgery, provided they aren’t tasked with lifting heavy items or working too strenuously. Most patients can also resume driving within one to two weeks, but as with all post-surgical advice, it’s best to rely on what your doctor says for your specific case. And of course, if you start doing anything and it hurts, stop, and call your doctor for advice.

The good news is swimming is one of the best exercises for people with a hernia, followed by walking, jogging, yoga, and cycling. Because swimming is a no-impact activity, it’s a good way to keep your cardiovascular fitness up, even with a hernia. However, it’s important to first talk with your doctor about when and how much you can swim both before and after hernia surgery.


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