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Hernia and Workers’ Compensation

Hernias occur when a bodily organ pushes through your muscle or tissue. Muscles and tissues hold your organs in place. A common example is when a person’s intestines push through a weakening in the abdominal wall. Other common locations for hernias include the upper thigh, the groin, and the belly button. Generally, hernias don’t repair themselves with time. In severe cases, surgery may be required because the hernia can become life-threatening.

What are the different types of hernias?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are several types of hernias. These include:

Inguinal hernias. 

  • Inguinal hernia: “In men, the inguinal canal is a passageway for the spermatic cord and blood vessels leading to the testicles. In women, the inguinal canal contains the round ligament that gives support for the womb.” When an inguinal hernia occurs, part of the intestine or fatty tissue – pushes through the groin – at the top of the inner thigh. Men suffer from this disorder more than men.
  • Femoral hernia: This type of hernia, in which “fatty tissue or part of the intestine protrudes into the groin at the top of the inner thigh” affects women more than men.
  • Umbilical hernia: This type of hernia occurs near the belly button (navel) as the tissue or intestine pushes through the abdomen.
  • Hiatal (hiatus) hernia: Here, “part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity through an opening in the diaphragm (the horizontal sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen).”
  • Incisional hernia: This type of hernia is normally due to a surgery – where tissue pushes through the site of an abdominal scar “from a remote abdominal or pelvic operation.”

The strong majority of hernias are inguinal or femoral.

Other types of hernias include:

  • Epigastric hernia
  • Spigelian hernia
  • Diaphragmatic hernia

Why do hernias occur?

Some hernias are due to conditions that have existed since birth. Hernias are often caused to do aging. Repeated strains on the abdominal and groin area can also cause a hernia. These strains can be due to physical exertion, frequent coughing, constipation, obesity, and pregnancy. Surgeries can also cause hernias. 

What are the symptoms of a hernia?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, common symptoms include a noticeable lump or bulge in the groin or abdomen – that can be pushed back in. Activities such as laughing, coughing, bowel movement strains, crying, or physical activity can make the hernia noticeable. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain while lifting
  • An increase in the size of the bulge
  • Pain at the edge of the bulge
  • “A sense of feeling full or signs of bowel obstruction.”

Can hernias be work-related?

Yes. Hernias may be due to a specific incident or to cumulative trauma. A lifting accident can cause the muscle of the abdominal wall to tear. Repetitive lifting over time can also cause a hernia; however, it must be remembered that generally, a repetitive trauma that occurs as a result of lifting over time is generally held to be non-compensable. Meaning, that you must prove the hernia came from a specific, identifiable incident that occurred at a specific moment in time, for instance, attempting to lift an unusually heavy object. Hernias, as discussed, may be due to surgeries – and the surgeries may be necessitated because of a workplace accident that causes abdominal or groin injuries.

Hernias may be secondary to other types of injuries or conditions which may render the hernia non-compensable. For example:

  • Coughing and sneezing may be due to occupational illnesses or due to exposure to dust and chemicals; however, this would likely not be a compensable claim, or at least be extremely difficult to prove.
  • Constipation. People who have orthopedic surgeries such as surgery on their back may need to take medications which, in turn, can cause constipation. The straining during constipation can cause a hernia. Again, this would be very hard to prove, since the constipation is generally something the public is equally exposed to and not a condition of work; 
  • Gaining weight. Injuries such as back injuries can cause inactivity which can cause weight gain – which can then cause a hernia; however, this would also likely be very difficult to prove, since weight gain is also a result of other factors such as overeating. 

How are hernias managed?

You must report the hernia condition to your employer. Once you do, the employer will refer you to a physician (or give you a list of qualifying doctors in Virginia) who will examine you to confirm the hernia. Often a hands-on physical examination can confirm the hernia. If the physician recommends surgery, then you will be referred to a general surgeon. Early intervention for a hernia is strongly advisable.

The type of surgery required depends on your age and the type of hernia you have. The common types of hernia surgery include:

  • Open surgery. In this procedure, the surgeon makes a cut into the body at the site of the hernia. The tissue that is protruding is “set back in place and the weakened muscle wall is stitched back together.” Some hernias use mesh implants to give more support.
  • Laparoscopic surgery. The repairs are generally the same as for an open surgery hernia operation – but “instead of a cut to the outside of the abdomen or groin, tiny incisions are made to allow for the insertion of surgical tools to complete the procedure.”
  • Robotic hernia repair. This hernia operation “uses a laparoscope, and is performed with small incisions.” In a robotic surgery procedure, the surgeon handles the surgical instruments from a console. “While robotic surgery can be used for some smaller hernias, or weak areas, it can now also be used to reconstruct the abdominal wall.”

Hernia surgeries are a fairly common procedure. Some hernias do reoccur. If the original hernia was work-related, then the subsequent hernia may also be work-related.

Other treatments may include losing weight, changes in lifestyle, a better diet, and medications.

What happens if the hernia isn’t treated?

Failure to treat a hernia can cause:

  • Obstruction (incarceration): “Part of the intestine becomes stuck in the inguinal canal, causing nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and a painful lump in the groin.”
  • Strangulation: “Part of the intestine is trapped in a way that cuts off its blood supply. In such cases, emergency surgery (within hours of occurring) is necessary to prevent tissue death.” I am personally aware of at least one person who failed to get appropriate treatment in time and died as a result of this type of hernia. Within 36 hours after he sustained this hernia, almost the entirety of his intestinal tract was necrotic, i.e. dead tissue due to the loss of blood flow to those tissues. There was nothing the surgeons could do. He died shortly thereafter.  Take this type of hernia VERY SERIOUSLY. 

 If you suffer a work-related hernia, then you should have the right to:

  • Payment for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses including the cost of a hernia surgery
  • Lost income based on your temporary work disability at 2/3rds of your average weekly wage so long as your doctor opines that you are unable to work– until you have any necessary surgeries (including time to recover). Depending on the outcome of the surgery, in some cases, you may also be entitled to permanent disability benefits.

Talk to a premier North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer today

North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation attorney Joe Miller Esq. has helped thousands of workers get the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve. He’s been fighting for injured workers for more than 31 years. He’ll work with your doctors to help verify a hernia or any other injury is work-related. To speak with an experienced North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation attorney, call lawyer Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or complete my online contact form to make an appointment. You can use complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new way we’re offering workers to contact us remotely, particularly after business hours.

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