You want to start using a weight lifting belt, but the biggest question on your mind is, "can weight lifting belts prevent hernias?"
A weightlifting belt may be beneficial when powerlifting, but it can also be harmful in other scenarios. If you'd like to learn more about weightlifting belts and how they help/harm hernias, this article is for you!
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Do Weightlifting Belts Prevent Or Cause Hernias? (Help Or Harm?)
Before we get started on whether weight lifting belts prevent or cause a hernia, it’s important to understand what exactly a hernia is. When there is a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue (the fascia), an organ or fatty tissue can protrude through. This is known as a hernia.
There are many different types of hernias, occurring in different areas of the abdomen. However, the most common hernia associated with weight lifting is an inguinal hernia.
This hernia type develops in the groin area and, although most prevalent in men, can occur in women as well.
In fact, research shows that men account for 90% of all inguinal hernias, whereas women account for just 10%. It should be noted that overexertion at the gym can also result in what’s known as a “sports hernia." This is a core muscle injury that causes abdominal and groin pain. Although it bears a similar name and has similar symptoms, it's not actually a hernia.
Regardless of the type, all hernias are caused by a combination of pressure and weakness or an opening in muscle or fascia. The pressure then forces an organ or tissue through the weakness or opening.
A hernia can, therefore, be caused by anything that increases pressure within the abdomen. This includes weightlifting without stabilizing the abdominal muscles.
Aside from the risk of a back injury, weight lifters are also susceptible to developing a hernia when exerting a sudden force or strain while lifting a heavy weight.
While the weightlifting itself doesn't necessarily cause a hernia in otherwise healthy people, it can exasperate or speed up the formation in people who already have an existing weakness or opening of the muscle or the fascia. Since the inside of the abdomen is constantly pressurized in order to stabilize the spine, any change in this pressure can cause issues.
Although lifting a weight increases the pressure in the abdomen, the manner in which a lift is performed (like squatting) can also increase internal abdominal pressure. The more often your internal pressure increases, the more stressed your muscles become.
As a result, microscopic tears can form in the muscles and surrounding tissues over time. This is why weight lifters and powerlifters alike are at a higher risk of developing a hernia from frequent lifting.
This is where the weightlifting belt joins the chat. A weight lifting belt helps to alleviate lower back strain and minimizes back hyperextension during overhead lifts. Additionally, a weight lifting belt can also help beginners engage their abdominal muscles more. For correct posture and spine stabilization, a weight lifting belt is tremendously beneficial.
According to published literature regarding the effects of the use of weightlifting belts, it was found that wearing a weight lifting belt during exercises like squats and deadlifts resulted in greater peak and average intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).
Researchers also found that there was an increased rate of intra-abdominal pressure during the first phase of a deadlift and around 25% to 40% greater during squats.
This supports the notion that a weightlifting belt helps to prevent back injuries since increased IAP helps to stabilize the spine and lowers compressive spinal stresses.
However, as mentioned earlier, an increase in IAP can contribute to the development of a hernia as well. Put simply, while weight lifting belts can help prevent back injuries, they can increase the risk of developing a hernia.
Related Article - How Tight Should My Lifting Belt Be?
How To Prevent A Hernia While Lifting Weights?
To prevent a hernia from forming while weightlifting, there are a few things you can do. The first tip is to ensure that you always warm up before heavy lifting. Aside from a general cardio warmup on the treadmill, you can use dumbbells to directly warm up the muscles you’re going to be targeting.
Additionally, you can also do some cardio reps of the strength exercise you’ve got planned (just with an empty barbell). For example, if you’re going to be doing squats, do a high-rep warmup set first, before loading on the weight.
With that said, specific exercises (like squats) do place an excessive amount of pressure on the abdominal wall, which could exasperate the development of a hernia. This includes deadlifts, weight-based ab exercises, high-intensity exercises, and jumping exercises too.
Before lifting heavy or increasing the intensity of your workout, you should work on perfecting your form and technique. Don’t band-aid your poor form by using a weightlifting belt. You should have a good foundation of core strength built before using the weightlifting belt and only use it as an aid to help you increase your 1RM.
In addition to this, we often see lifters rushing through their set. Slow it down and really focus on your breathing technique and overall form.
If you do struggle with a weak core, then focusing on core-strengthening exercises is ideal. Prevention is the best cure, and by fixing weak abdominal muscles, you can prevent a hernia from forming in the first place.
When working on your core strength, you shouldn't focus solely on the front abdominal wall but rather on all of the major core muscles.
These include your transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and the rectus abdominis (your abs). This helps to ensure good balance and avoid developing compensation problems as well.
Related Article - How To Wear A Lifting Belt To Prevent Injury
What Injuries Can Be Caused By Weightlifting? (+ How To Prevent Them)
No matter how much of an experienced lifter you are, weight lifting injuries can happen to anyone. Common areas of injury include the lower back, as well as the knees, shoulders, and neck/spine.
When doing exercises like deadlifts, the lower back is placed under significant strain. Incorrect form can cause muscle or tendon strain, as well as ruptured ligaments (in severe cases).
This is where the old adage “lift with your knees, not your back” originates from. Weight lifters will often use a weight lifting belt to help avoid rounding of the lower back or to provide additional support.
This brings us to the next injury - the knees. If you’re lifting with your knees and not your back, it should go without saying that more stress is placed on the knee. Additionally, movements like the squat or deadlift do place a high strain on the knee joint by default.
While these exercises are generally safe for your knees, poor alignment, a sudden twisting movement, or a different pre-existing injury can increase your risk of a knee injury.
Although a weightlifting belt won’t directly support your knees, it can help to improve spinal alignment or make you more conscious of your form. This can indirectly help to prevent knee injuries.
Finally, when it comes to neck and shoulder injuries, these are most commonly tied to poor form or loading your barbell with too much weight. Since wearing a weightlifting belt can make you more aware of your form and assist you in lifting more weight, it can also help you to prevent these injuries.
Also Check Out - Lifting Belt Break In Guide
Common Lifting Belt Questions
Do squats prevent or cause hernias?
Squats in themselves don’t cause hernias. However, performing a squat increases your intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which in turn can place more pressure on an already weakened or opened fascia.
Put simply, if you’re in the beginning stages of a hernia already, squats could increase your risk of the hernia worsening.
Do ab exercises prevent or cause hernias?
This depends on the type of hernia. Exertion of the abdominal muscles can lead to an increased risk of an abdominal or hiatal hernia.
However, with inguinal hernias, tissue pushes through a weak spot in your abdominal muscles, near your groin. By strengthening your abs with exercises (like stomach vacuums), you can actually prevent inguinal hernias from forming.
When should you start wearing a belt for weight lifting?
A good rule of thumb to follow is to first get to 80% of your 1RM without using a weightlifting belt. Once you reach this level, the weight is heavy enough to justify needing additional assistance.
However, if you’re new to weightlifting, you should first focus on your form and build your core strength before using a weightlifting belt.
That wraps up this informative article on weightlifting belts for hernias. We hope that all of your questions and concerns were addressed.
Now that you know how to prevent a hernia and what injuries are commonly caused by weight lifting (and how belts help avoid them!) - you can continue to lift safely and achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!
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Last Updated on August 17, 2022