Hiatal Hernia Treatment

By Dr. Ben Kim

Hiatal hernia is a condition that produces one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain/discomfort behind the breast bone (sternum), usually towards the bottom of the chest wall
  • Difficulty swallowing - a feeling that an obstruction in the lower chest wall is making it hard for food to pass through to the stomach
  • Heartburn
  • Chronic burping

Anatomical Considerations

Your chest cavity is separated from your abdominal cavity by a large, flat muscle called your diaphragm. Your diaphragm sits about halfway down your torso, just below the border of your lowest ribs.

Your stomach sits just below your diaphragm, so is technically considered to be in your abdominal cavity. Your esophagus (food pipe) sits above your diaphragm, and is therefore considered to be in your chest cavity. Your diaphragm has a hole, called your esophageal hiatus, that allows your esophagus to travel from your chest cavity into your abdominal cavity, where it immediately meets up with your stomach.

A hiatal hernia is when a portion of the top of your stomach slides up through the esophageal hiatus in your diaphragm towards your chest cavity. The result is pressure on the walls of your esophagus, which can lead to one or more of the symptoms listed above. What Causes A Hiatal Hernia?

Some people are born with one. But most commonly, a hiatal hernia is caused by any lifestyle factor that causes weakening of the diaphragm and the connective tissue that is in place in and around the esophageal hiatus to help prevent a hernia. Emotional stress, physical stress, lack of adequate rest, being overweight for your height, and smoking cigarettes are the most common lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of a hiatal hernia. Hiatal Hernia Treatment Options

Symptoms of heartburn that can accompany a hiatal hernia often respond positively to one or more of the following measures:

1. Avoid smoking cigarettes.
2. Avoid or limit caffeine intake.
3. Avoid alcohol, especially hard liquor.
4. Do not overeat.
5. Wear loose, comfortable clothing around your torso.

Sometimes, a hiatal hernia can be corrected with the following physical measures:

1. Apply gentle massage to the uppermost portion of your abdominal cavity. To do this, use your fingers to find the point at which your breast bone (sternum) ends, right where the bottom rib on each side of your chest cavity comes up to meet the breast bone. Place your fingers just below this point, apply downward pressure, and move slowly towards your belly button. You don't need to travel all the way to your belly button; a few inches below the starting point is adequate. Repeat this simple massage technique several times while you are lying down and physically and emotionally relaxed. You can follow this routine as often as you like until you experience improvement in your symptoms. I recommend most people try this routine two times per day, once in the morning, and once in the evening.

2. After a relaxation session of at least five minutes during which time you have been lying down, drink a full glass of water. Then, jump to the ground from a height that you are comfortable with - anything ranging from the bottom step of a set of stairs to a sturdy sofa seat or chair. The water is to add some weight to your stomach. Jumping down from a height of a few inches to a few feet is to provide downward impact upon landing that can help the portion of your stomach that has herniated upward to slide back down, away from the esophageal hiatus of your diaphragm.

3. When you feel warmed up and relaxed (not first thing upon awakening, which is prime time for pulling a muscle or ligament), reach up with one arm and hold onto a sturdy ledge that allows your body to hang loosely and your trunk to experience a longitudinal stretch.

The best option to hang off of is a monkey bar or any similar apparatus at a local playground or on some exercise equipment. You could also try the top of a door, but depending on your weight and the strength of the door, hinges, and screws, you may end up doing some damage.

The key is to find a solid, overhanging ledge that allows for you to dangle and stretch out your torso. The hope is that such stretching will encourage any protruded portion of your stomach to slide back down into your abdominal cavity.

You can try dangling on your right arm for a bit, then your left arm, then both arms. Dangle as long as is comfortable, and try to breathe deeply and steadily as you dangle to encourage your diaphragm to move up and down over the affected site.

Because the tone and overall health of your digestive tract is very closely connected with your stress levels via your autonomic nervous system, one of the most important treatment considerations for a hiatal hernia is physical and emotional relaxation work. Taking as much time as is needed to address chronic emotional states like frustration, anger, sadness, and hatred can be critically important in allowing your digestive tract to experience optimal nerve tone, which I have found can, in and of itself, cure some cases of hiatal hernia.

Hope these suggestions prove to be helpful. If you have any natural remedies for a hiatal hernia that have worked for you, please consider sharing them in the comments section below. Thank you.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

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