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Sports Hernia Surgery and Recovery

After approximately five months of physical therapy my attempt to avoid the operating table came to an end. The majority of sports hernia injuries end up with the person requiring surgery and you can add me to the statistics. I got injured the first week of April 2012 and went through countless doctors, blogs, and forums until I finally found the right doctor. We tried the conservative approach of physical therapy and when that was unsuccessful I chose to get surgery and had it the first week of September 2012.

There are several different techniques used to repair a sports hernia and you can find documentation arguing the pros and cons of each of them. Because of this it made it that much more difficult to track down the right doctor (for me). In my case Dr. Robert MacDonald recommended repairing the sports hernia with flexible mesh as well as releasing the adductor on my right side, the same side as the sports hernia. After doing my research I felt comfortable with the approach and scheduled my surgery.

I was able to get the surgery scheduled for a Friday morning so that I had the weekend to heal up and relax. The surgery took place in an outpatient facility next to the hospital and took about 45 minutes. The surgery was done laparoscopically with a total of four small incisions. One vertical going down about an inch from the bottom of my belly button, two smaller cuts each horizontal below that and one in my groin where the adductor was released.

When I came out of the anesthesia I felt very tired. My lower abdomen area felt very tight and I was in a modest amount of pain. Around an hour or so after waking up they released me from the facility and I took four Advil as soon as I got into the car.

Sitting up out of the hospital bed took some time and I had to remember to use my arms and not my core to help sit me up. Walking was not too bad as long as I took very slow, short strides. It was getting into my wife’s SUV that was a challenge, especially since her vehicle does not have handle bars. If the surgery was on my left side I think I would have ended up getting into the back of the car on the driver side because there was no way I could lift my right leg up high enough to get into the car. The drive home was extra slow trying to avoid any bumps and sharp turns.

Recovery for me started the minute I walked out of the out patient facility. My goal was to do whatever was needed to get better quickly and safely. I am not a fan of taking heavy medication so I declined any pain killers and stuck with Advil. The rest of Friday and all day Saturday consisted of me sitting in a chair reading books, playing video games, and icing every 15 minutes. It was hard to sit in a chair for that long, but at least I got to catch up on some good books. For the first week after surgery I had to use a step-stool to gingerly get into bed.

The post operation care instructions I was provided talked about swelling, bruising, and gas pains in my right shoulder (weird). I expected the swelling and bruising and as a guy, the swelling was pretty unpleasant. For the first two or so weeks after the surgery I had to walk carefully and at times it constantly felt like I was kicked in the groin. When I had my follow up with Dr. MacDonald he said it was normal, but it did not make me feel any better. Thankfully that went away.

The worst part were the gas pains in the first two nights after surgery. There is a lot of trapped air in your abdominal cavity from a surgery like this and gravity does its job causing the trapped air to move upwards. On the first night I ended up sleeping on my side and was woken up by pain that felt like a kidney stone. I rolled onto my back and it moved away from that area, but man that was painful. After the second night the gas pains were annoying, but mild.

I was told that it would take about two weeks to recover from the surgery itself and would take 6 to 8 weeks before things started to feel normal again. I would say it was an accurate assessment. Three weeks post-op I started taking walks during lunch at work and over time increased my distance and pace. About five weeks after surgery I went for my first run.

My first run after surgery was 1.25 miles and I did it at a very slow pace. While I was recovering the only thing that really bothered me was the adductor release and I felt it a little on the run. Over the next few weeks I took it nice and easy and slowly increased my running distance and pace as well as go back to the gym.

After each run I have made sure to incorporate the majority of the stretches I do for goaltending. Most of the stretches felt okay except for the butterfly stretch which tugged at the site of the adductor release. Eventually that went away and except for splits I have regained most of my original flexibility.

Once I felt comfortable with running and stretching I decided it was time to test out skating. It was a nice day out a few weeks ago so my son hopped on his tricycle and I put on my skates and we went around our development a few times. Thankfully I did not feel any pain or weakness when skating. With skating a success, a few days later I strapped on my pads and practiced a few saves in the garage.

I was pretty nervous putting my pads on and trying out my first save attempt in over seven months. There were thoughts about re-injuring myself on the first move or feeling pain strong enough indicating I was very far away from still playing. But as the inside of my blocker has the message Fear is the Mind Killer, I pushed past my fears and dropped into a butterfly save. The only thing I felt were my knees landing on the knee-stacks and no pain.

This past Friday I went to my first open skate and played in my first game since surgery on Sunday. Next up: Playing Ice Hockey for the first time ever, a dream in the making for almost 20 years.

Looking Back
Would I have skipped the five months of physical therapy and went right for the surgery had I known in advance it would not have worked out? Probably not. Believe me, I did not want to miss a day of hockey let alone seven months of it. However, going through physical therapy not only strengthened main and stability muscles to help support the injured area, but it always helped me with uncertainty and patience.

I learned to accept my injury and the fact I was unable to play. I learned that my focus was to conquer the current day and not worry about the future of when I will play again (or if for that matter). There were times when I was recovering from surgery that it felt like I would never heal up to the point where I could play again, but I tried my best to reassure myself to just take it one day at a time. After what seemed like an eternity I started to notice more flexibility and less pain and that gave me hope that I was on the right track.

Thank You
From the time I was first injured to now where I just started playing hockey again, I have had amazing support from my family, friends, people who read this blog, and hockey people on twitter. I cannot thank you enough for the words of encouragement and support you have provided me throughout this journey. I am so grateful to have people like you in my life.

And a an extra thank you to my wife and son for all the care and love they provided, I could not have made it through this without you. Every time I see my new scars I cannot help but laugh because of how my 4 year old son constantly wanted to see my “belly” to see if I was healing up and how he tried on multiple occasions in public, to lift my shirt up to show complete strangers that his daddy had surgery.

“It ain’t about how hard you hit: It’s about how hard you can get hit. And keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take. And keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” ~ Rocky Balboa

  1. December 12, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience! My friend had just recovered from the hernia surgery. I would refer this blog to my friends.

    • jkassay
      December 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      I’m glad that you liked this post and I hope your friend has a speedy and successful recovery. Thanks.

  2. Long
    January 9, 2013 at 3:29 am

    Hi, I went through the same surgery with the same doctor in Aug 2012. Currently, I am still feeling some occasional pain around my pubis. I just want to see how is your recovery going on.

    • jkassay
      January 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      I still feel occasional pain as well. Every now and then it will feel as it did prior to the surgery. I was told that this is common (I don’t like that answer though). I have been focusing on a lot of stretching to try to reduce the chance of another injury and I still have trouble with lower abdominal exercises at the gym. I am back to running and playing hockey 100%.

      • Long
        January 9, 2013 at 6:14 pm

        hi. At my time point, almost 5months after surgery, my sports hernia symptoms completely went away. But my lower lap and pubis skins feel burning pain and nausea. I can still feel my body is refusing the mesh. Do you have similar sensation? Thanks for you reply.

      • jkassay
        January 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        I would recommend going back to the doctor if you are still having issues. I have not had any of the symptoms that you mentioned. I’m sorry to hear that you are still having some trouble. Best of luck.

  3. January 14, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Oh my gosh, this is quite the story. I can’t imagine what that hernia must of felt like. Thanks for sharing your recovery story. I use stories like these when I talk with my own patients.

    • jkassay
      January 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm

      I definitely wanted to share it because there is not enough information out there about this type of injury. Thanks for your comment.

  4. ekgruber
    January 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I appreciate the post as I am in a similar situation. I have been diagnosed with athletic pubalgia after 8 months of conservative treatment, trying to heal from an adductor/rectus abdominus tear. My situation is complicated as I have also been diagnosed with a hip impingement (FAI) and a labral tear. Dr. MacDonald recommended laprascopic surgery to repair the athletic pubalgia. I am curious how your recovery has progressed and if you have experienced any complications since your surgery. Thanks in advance for the reply.

    • jkassay
      January 28, 2014 at 10:50 am

      It has been about 16 months since my surgery and I have to say that everything has been going very well. I was able to start running again about 2 months after surgery and started playing hockey around 3-4 months after. Thankfully I have not had any complications from the surgery and in general the area where the surgery was does not feel any different or bothers me. I hope your surgery goes well and that you recover quickly.

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