Chronic Postoperative Hernia Pain

Causes of Pain Lasting for Longer Than Three Months

One of the more frustrating complications of hernia surgery is the chronic postoperative pain that can sometimes occur, known as post-herniorrhaphy neuralgia. It is both an irony and aggravation given that the surgery was meant to relieve pain, not add to it.

Luckily, in all but a few cases, the pain is not permanent and will eventually resolve on its own. How long it takes depends largely on a person's age, the type of surgery used, the location and size of the herniation, and the general health of the individual.

A seated man winces while touching his ribs.
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Post-Herniorraphy Neuralgia Symptoms

Post-herniorrhaphy neuralgia is defined as a nerve-related pain that persists for more than three months and is unrelated to any other cause. In some cases, the pain can be so severe as to interfere with walking, sitting, or even sleep.

The pain is typically caused when nerves become damaged or trapped in sutures, staples, or surgical mesh. The pain is referred to as neuropathy and can manifest with shooting pains and/or a burning, tingling, aching, or pins-and-needles sensation.

The pain may also be somatic, meaning that is related to the skin, muscles, or tissue rather than the nerves. If any of these are foreshortened during surgery, it can result in an uncomfortable tugging, aching, or pulling sensation, generally with movement.

Risk Factors

Chronic pain after hernia repair is not all that uncommon a condition, particularly for those who have undergone inguinal (groin) hernia surgery. Depending on which study you refer to, the incidence can be as low as 9% percent or as high as 62%.

The risk of developing chronic postoperative neuralgia following hernia surgery can vary but may include:

  • Younger age
  • Being female (although no one is quite certain why)
  • Having had surgery within the past three years
  • Undergoing surgery to repair a previous hernia surgery
  • The involvement of the Iliohypogastric nerve which supplies sensations to the buttocks and abdominal area
  • The repair of an anterior (nearer to the midline) hernia
  • Infection or other postoperative complications
  • Pre-existing neuropathy

Of these, age appears to be the single biggest factor. This is likely due to the fact that younger people are more active than older people.

One study found that 58% of people under age 40 had persistent, postoperative hernia pain compared to only 14% over age 60.


Chronic postoperative hernia pain is usually treated conservatively with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Time and exercise are usually the best way to overcome pain of this sort. It is rarely long-lasting.

In around 30% of cases, the pain will go away on its own within six months. After five years, fewer than 3% of patients remain affected.

Severe pain may require neuropathic medications or prescription opioid medications. If these fail to provide relief, the doctor may recommend radiofrequency ablation in which an electrical current produced by radio waves is used to sever a nerve pathway, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area.

A less invasive version of this is called a nerve block and involves the use of an anesthetic injection to temporarily cut off pain signals.

A Word From Verywell

While chronic postoperative pain can interfere with your wellbeing and quality of life, it is important to remember that it is rarely a permanent condition. While medications can relieve many of the symptoms, exercise can improve circulation and flexibility, both of which can help reduce pain over the long term. Sitting still will not.

Moreover, shedding those extra pounds can help relieve weight-related stress, particularly in the groin or pelvic area. In the end, good lifestyle choices will not only make you healthier, but it can also improve your mood and provide you with the means to better cope with persistent pain.

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