What are the symptoms of a hernia? The most common sign of a hernia is a soft swelling or bulge under your skin. The type of hernia you have will determine where the bulge appears on your body.

Some hernias can only be seen when you stand up, and may disappear completely when you lie down. Others may only be visible when you strain your muscles by coughing, sneezing, laughing, bending or lifting. Usually, the bulge is soft enough that you can gently push, or knead, it back into your abdomen (reducible), and it is often not there when you wake up in the morning.

Most hernias are not painful. However, sometimes the area around your hernia may be tender and you may feel some sharp twinges or a pulling sensation. As your hernia gets bigger, your pain and discomfort may increase. If not repaired, a hernia may eventually prevent you from enjoying normal activities due to increased discomfort, such as exercising, working, household chores or sex.

Health Risks

When an organ, such as your intestine (bowel), pushes through the abdominal wall, there is a small risk it could become trapped. This is known as an incarcerated hernia. If your hernia is trapped outside of the abdominal wall, you won‘t be able to push it back into your abdomen, and it may feel hard and be very painful. Contact your doctor right away if you have this situation.

If left untreated, an incarcerated hernia may become strangulated. This means the hernia is tightly trapped and blood will no longer flow into the tissues. Without a normal blood supply, the trapped tissues may die. A strangulated hernia is not very common and will cause severe pain, nausea, vomiting and even death. A strangulated hernia requires immediate surgical attention at the nearest hospital. Leaving a hernia until this stage means that you will lose the option of choosing the ideal type of repair for the hernia you may have.

If you have a hernia, contact your doctor right away if:

  • your hernia becomes painful,
  • your hernia can‘t be pushed back into your abdomen, and
  • you feel sick to your stomach or vomit, have a fever, diarrhea, cannot pass gas or have a bowel movement

Hernia or groin strain?

It‘s not always easy to diagnose a hernia and there are a dozen things that can cause pain in the groin. Every year, over 1,000 patients come to the Shouldice Hospital convinced they have a hernia, when, in fact, what they really have is a groin strain. Surgery is not the right solution for these patients.

If you think you might have a hernia, please come to the Shouldice Hospital walk-in clinic for an examination. Our highly specialized surgeons diagnose and treat thousands of hernias every year. We have the expertise to provide a proper diagnosis and may help you avoid an unnecessary operation. Examinations in our walk-in clinic are provided at no cost to our patients.


    7750 Bayview Avenue,
    Thornhill, Ontario,
    Canada L3T 4A3
    View Map


    Tel: 905-889-1125
    Fax: 905-889-4216
    Canada: 1-800-291-7750
    U.S./International: 1-855-328-3423


    Shouldice Hospital is committed to excellence in serving all patients including people with disabilities.
    Learn More