Hernia Surgery: Recovery

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A full and proper recovery is essential for the success of hernia surgery. Generally speaking, it's likely you won't have to spend the night in the hospital. You should be able to start light activity after one to two weeks. You can expect full recovery from hernia surgery at four to six weeks. There will be many things for you to keep in mind during this time, but so long as you listen to your doctor and get the support you need, you’re sure to see a successful recovery.

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Surgery Follow-Up

It’s important to note that there may be some variations when it comes to individual cases; someone else’s recovery from hernia surgery might look different than your own. While you’ll likely be able to go home the same day of the treatment, you need to make sure you’ve arranged for someone to drive.

During recovery, you and your doctor will need to ensure everything is healing properly. What can you expect? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Appointments: In most hernia surgery cases, the doctor will want to check on your progress at about two weeks after the operation. In more complex cases, an additional follow-up appointment may be necessary.
  • Return to light activity: Following hernia surgery, it’s recommended that you wait one to two weeks prior to resuming lighter activity, and you should not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. A determination is often made at the point of the first follow-up appointment.
  • Return to strenuous activity: Notably, the strain of exercise—especially lifting heavy objects—can put you in danger of re-herniation or other problems. Typically, doctors recommend waiting a minimum of six weeks prior to return to such activity. Don’t get ahead of yourself and be sure to get your surgeon’s clearance before starting up heavier exercise or lifting heavy objects (whether for work or in the gym). In complex cases, it’ll take up to six months before you can engage in such activities.

Unlike some other surgeries, physical therapy isn’t typically a part of the recovery process. No matter what, it’s essential in this time that you keep your doctor and medical team updated on your progress.

Recovery Timeline

As sketched out above, the specific timing of recovery from hernia surgery depends on the specific case and can vary; however, in all cases, the idea is to ensure that the procedure was a success and that the incisions are healing properly. In each phase, you should follow the doctor’s orders and be monitoring your progress. The timing of your recovery will look something like this:

  • Before leaving the hospital: Immediately after your surgery, you’ll be taken to a recovery room, where you’ll rest and have vitals monitored. As your doctor will tell you, it’s important for you to breathe deeply by taking five to 10 deep breaths every hour during this time. Once you’re able to defecate and urinate normally—and barring any other complications—you should be cleared to leave.
  • Within 48 to 72 hours: Since hernia surgery often involves general anesthesia (in which you are put to sleep), you should avoid driving for a minimum of 48 hours following the treatment. In addition, in the early stages of recovery, you will be encouraged to walk around a little once an hour. If that isn’t possible, you may be asked to wear compression stockings, or, if you have cardiac problems, take blood-thinning drugs. These measures prevent the formation of blood clots.
  • One to two weeks: As noted above, you should be able to resume lighter activity and non-strenuous work or schooling within two weeks of having hernia surgery. Notably, if you’re sexually active, you’ll be told to abstain from sex for at least two weeks. During this time, you should be gradually and carefully increasing your level of activity; however, be sure not to overdo it, and get your doctor’s OK before starting any new exercises.   
  • Six weeks to six months: In many cases, complete recovery is expected at six weeks, and it will be at that point that you’ll be able to truly resume your normal level of activity. As mentioned above, though, more complex cases may require a longer period of recovery, with some cases taking up to six months.

Throughout this time, be attentive to how you’re feeling and make sure to be communicative with your medical staff. If anything feels off, don’t hesitate to let them know.  

Coping With Recovery

Even in the easiest cases, recovery from hernia surgery is a process and takes some time. You won’t be completely yourself for some time, and a number of issues may arise as you’re healing.

Pain Management

One of the most pressing, at least in the earlier going, will be the pain and discomfort. What can you do to manage this? Let’s take a quick look.

Over-the-counter Pain Medications

Whether or not you end up being prescribed stronger, pharmaceutical pills to manage pain, you’ll likely be advised to take over-the-counter medicine. In many cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or others may be used as indicated.

Make sure to let the medical team know if you have a history of kidney, liver, or heart problems as these can be affected by these drugs.

Prescription Pain Medications

For more intense pain and especially in the earlier going following surgery, you may be prescribed an opioid drug such as Percocet, Vicodin, or Oxycontin to help ease your pain. It’s important to note that these are highly addictive and should be taken only as directed.

Side-effects include sleepiness, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, reduced respiration, nausea, constipation, skin rash, among others. Be as sparing as you can be with these medications, and once you no longer need them, take any leftovers back to the pharmacy for disposal. 

Non-Medical Approaches

Some patients may want to attempt recovery with little to no medication. Doctors recommend trying “distraction”—listening to your favorite music, playing games, or taking part in activities you find ease anxiety or stress—as a means to get your mind off pain.

Another approach comes from psychiatry—the use of guided imagery. This involves, basically, closing your eyes, breathing very deeply, and picturing yourself in an ideal location or a “happy place.” Over time, you should be able to feel positive emotions from where you are, leaving you calmer and more in control.

Keep in mind that, while some pain is expected as you heal, too much will get in the way of your recovery (and can be a sign of something else wrong). It’s therefore essential that you don’t let yourself suffer in silence and are communicative with the surgeon about how you’re feeling.

Emotional Challenges

Recovery from surgery can also be emotionally challenging; though not always the case, patients have reported feeling upset, depressed, nervous, irritable, weepy, and sad following treatment. It's a sensitive time, and emotional support may be needed to get through it.

Here, opening up to loved ones can really help, and, if things are very difficult, know that professional counselors or other mental health professionals can be there for you, too. Let your doctor know about how you are physically and emotionally as they, too, can connect you with support, if you need it. Good outcomes from surgery are always a team effort.

Wound Care

Whether you have open or laparoscopic hernia surgery, an important component of a successful outcome is proper care of the incisions the surgeon made to correct the problem. As you’re recovering, contact your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing any signs of infection, including:

  • Persistent pain
  • Increasing/worsening pain
  • Fever of more than 101 F
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling, redness, bleeding, or drainage from the incision(s)
  • Severe and consistent abdominal pain
  • Absence of bowel movements two to three days after the surgery

And what can you do to prevent infection and ensure full and complete recovery? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Sanitation: Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before touching anywhere in or around the incision(s).
  • Bathing: Avoid taking a full bath while stitches, staples, Steri-Strips, or other adhesives are holding the wound closed. Showering is OK, though be gentle with the incisions.
  • Changing bandages: Your doctor will give you guidance as to when and how to change bandages; listen carefully and follow their orders.
  • Drainage: A small amount of drainage caught in the bandages is expected; however, let your doctor know as soon as possible if they are soaked in blood.
  • Steri-Strips: If Steri-Strips are used to close up the incision, expect them to fall off on their own within seven to 10 days; don’t take them off yourself.
  • Glue covering: As with Steri-Strips, incisions held together with a glue-like covering should be allowed to run their course and the covering will eventually flake off on its own.
  • Clothing: Try not to wear tight-fighting clothing or fabric that could chafe the region.
  • Covering up: Make sure the wound is not exposed to direct sunlight, especially once new skin has started to grow.

It typically takes about four to six weeks for the area to fully heal; the scar may start off darker and coarser than other areas, but this will soften over time.

A Word From Verywell

Recovery from hernia surgery is a process, and unfortunately, while symptoms may ease the moment you wake up from your operation, it will undoubtedly be some time before you’re fully back on track. This time is not easy and adjustments will need to be made, but, with the right medical team and the support of family and friends, a positive and successful outcome is virtually assured.

Critical in all of this, however, is you, the patient; in the months following hernia surgery, it’s your job to check in on your own progress and let your medical team know if anything seems off, or if you are struggling emotionally or physically. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to speak up.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Wisconsin Health. Laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair. Published 2019. 

  2. The John Hopkins University, Comprehensive Hernia Center. Recovery after hernia surgery. 2020.

  3. American College of Surgeons. Groin hernia repair: inguinal and femoral. 2018. 

  4. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About your abdominal incisional hernia surgery. 2017. 

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