According to the National Center for Health Statistics, USA, approximately 5 million Americans have a hernia but only about 750,000 of them seek treatment each year. It is estimated that 800,000 people develop a new abdominal hernia annually.

Phelps Hernia Center

Located on the Phelps campus


Weakness in a muscle may be due to an injury, chronic coughing, surgery or age. Straining is associated with lifting heavy objects, sneezing or coughing, constipation, pregnancy and weight gain. Sometimes muscle weakness is present at birth and worsens with time.


The most common symptom of an inguinal hernia is pain, with or without a lump in the groin. The lump is more easily felt when standing and seems to disappear when lying down. Pain is especially noticeable when bending, lifting or coughing. There may also be a burning, aching or feeling of heaviness in the groin area.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of developing a hernia include:

  • a personal or family history of hernias
  • being overweight or obese
  • chronic constipation
  • a chronic cough
  • smoking (which can trigger a chronic cough)

Preventing hernias

It isn’t always possible to prevent the muscle weakness that leads to the occurrence of a hernia, but it is possible to reduce strain, which will help to avoid a hernia or keep an existing one from getting worse. The following suggestions may help to reduce strain:

  • do not lift weights that are too heavy for you
  • when lifting, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and tighten your abdomen
  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • avoid straining during bowel movements or urination
  • see your doctor when you have a bad cold or flu to avoid developing a persistent cough


If you suspect that you have developed a hernia, a visit to your primary care physician or a hernia specialist is recommended. The doctor will diagnose an inguinal hernia by feeling for a bulge in your abdomen or groin when you stand, cough or strain.

Sometimes, what seems to be a hernia is actually a muscle pull or groin sprain. Even a hip problem can mimic the symptoms of a hernia. A physician experienced in treating hernias has the expertise to tell the difference.


When a hernia is small and not causing pain, treatment may consist of being careful not to strain and having your doctor look at it periodically. Once a hernia becomes large or painful, however, surgery is usually the best option.


Your surgeon’s skill and the type of hernia operation you have will influence the time it takes for you to recover and, more importantly, whether the hernia will recur.

There are two common surgical approaches: minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery or old-fashioned open surgery.

Open surgery involves larger incisions, more stitches, more trauma to surrounding tissue, and a longer recovery period than minimally invasive surgery.

With laparoscopic surgery, the hernia is repaired through small incisions, and the procedure can take as little as 15 minutes. Laparoscopic surgery uses a tiny camera and specialized surgical skill. It is often an outpatient procedure, and patients are able to return to their normal activities quickly. Laparoscopic surgery requires less anesthesia than open surgery and has less pain, less risk for infection and less scarring.

A typical laparoscopic hernia operation involves 4 small incisions – one for the camera and three through which the hands perform the procedure. “When I perform laparoscopic hernia surgery,” says laparoscopic surgeon Dr. Har Chi Lau, Medical Director of the Phelps Hernia Center, “I do everything with one hand, so only two incisions are needed – one for the camera and one for my hand.”

The tear in the muscle is repaired with surgical mesh. Preferring not to use the standard-sized mesh, Dr. Lau customizes the mesh size and shape to fit each patient exactly. This tailor-made fit ensures that the repair is solid, which is why hernia recurrence is rare among Dr. Lau’s patients.

Phelps Hernia Center

The Phelps Hernia Center, under the medical direction of Har Chi Lau, MD, offers patients expert diagnosis and specialized treatment for hernias. Dr. Lau is a board-certified surgeon with expertise in minimally invasive surgery.

Before entering medical school, Dr. Lau attended the Nuclear  Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Wisconsin and was Resident Assistant at the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Wisconsin. He went on to earn his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania and completed his Surgery Residency and Internship at Allegheny University Hospital. He also conducted surgical research on wound healing during his residency.

The Phelps Hernia Center is located on the Phelps campus (914-631-3660).

Some types of hernia surgeries are performed by thoracic surgeons. To learn about thoracic robotic surgery at Phelps, visit our thoracic surgery page.