How to Fix Hiatal Hernias Yourself With Natural Treatments
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Written by Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC on February 9, 2022
Hiatal hernia is the most common cause of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. In most cases, a GERD patient won’t get a hiatal hernia diagnosis until after they’ve been dealing with their reflux issues for a while, as it’s not a condition that’s readily apparent without some sort of medical imaging [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
While a minor case of hiatal hernia may not result in uncomfortable symptoms, severity can range quite a bit and may even require surgery [2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. There’s limited research when it comes to how to fix hiatal hernias yourself naturally, but some research suggests that a few complementary and alternative medicine techniques might lend a hand at alleviating symptoms long-term.
Let’s break down what a hiatal hernia is and then go over the treatment options and therapies to help you better understand this condition, and how to avoid surgery if you have one.
Hiatal hernias occur when the upper part of the stomach or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) — where the esophagus meets the stomach — bulges upwards through an opening in the diaphragm called the hiatus. This condition of the digestive system predisposes a person to acid reflux and GERD because it can change the alignment of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which keeps stomach acid out of the esophagus.
Acid reflux and GERD are among the most common symptoms of hiatal hernia, in addition to [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]:
There are several different types of hernia of the hiatus, but the first type is by far the most common. Type 1 represents about 95% of all hiatal hernia cases, and occurs when the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) (where the esophagus meets the stomach) bulges upwards through the hiatus [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Type 2 represents about 5% of all hiatal hernia cases, and occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the area of the chest cavity between the lungs [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Type 3 is a combination of the first two, and type 4 occurs when the upper stomach and part of another abdominal organ (such as the intestines or spleen) protrudes into the chest cavity [3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Hiatal hernias are often only discovered when looking for causes of persistent GERD or other upper-abdominal complaints. Imaging (such as endoscopy) is required for diagnosis, as a physical exam can’t detect the anatomical issue happening inside the body [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Conventional treatment of hiatal hernia usually consists of over-the-counter antacids or proton pump inhibitors (like TUMS, Pepcid, or famotidine), prescription drugs (like Nexium or Prilosec), or even hernia surgery for more severe cases. However, if you’re looking for suggestions for how to fix a hiatal hernia yourself, you’re probably looking for more holistic options.
A number of studies support the use of CAIM therapies to address digestive health, including diet and lifestyle changes, breathing exercises, herbs and supplements, mind-body therapies, and acupuncture.
There are no studies proving that a person can reverse or push back in the anatomical abnormality of a hiatal hernia. However, a number of the CAIM interventions that can help ameliorate GERD symptoms can also solve some of the problems associated with hiatal hernia.
Furthermore, there are some manual therapies that may help address the anatomical problem, such as osteopathic treatments, myofascial release therapy (MFT), and neuromuscular training.
As far as how to fix hiatal hernia yourself, we’ve had success at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine clinic using a hiatal hernia self-maneuver, which we’ll explain a little further down.
Since GERD often accompanies a hiatal hernia, several treatments aimed at improving GERD may be helpful for hiatal hernia patients. In some cases, these lifestyle changes may be the key to how to fix hiatal hernia yourself. Even if the fix doesn’t change the anatomy of the hernia inside your esophagus, it can remedy all the symptoms that make the hernia a problem. Helpful, evidence-based lifestyle modifications include [4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]:
The studies supporting diaphragmatic breathing didn’t test the subjects for hiatal hernia, but all had GERD and experienced a significant reduction in episodes of reflux, belching, and other GERD symptoms. Participants in a 2018 study even reported an improvement in quality of life [9 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Subjects that participated in the study were asked to perform the following breathing sequence:
After correctly performing the technique while lying down, the participants could then progress to do the breathing exercises while sitting, then standing. Participants were recommended to perform 30 breaths for five minutes three times daily, and for five minutes when symptomatic.
Interestingly, some evidence seems to point to low-carb and low-FODMAP diets to help relieve GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn (both of which tend to be lower in fiber), while other evidence suggests fiber supplementation using psyllium husks at 15 grams per day helps relieve GERD, with 60% of subjects experiencing complete resolution of symptoms . It’s unclear why supplemental fiber would have such a benefit while lower-fiber diets may also benefit, so more research in this area needs to be done.
Other strategic supplements to consider adding into your daily routine that may help with GERD and hiatal hernia include:
A 2017 literature review investigated the efficacy of alternative treatments for GI conditions and found that many of the CAIM interventions we’ve already named were effective (supplements, herbs, raft-forming agents, nutrition, and lifestyle changes), in addition to acupuncture and mind-body therapies, such as [5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]:
Looking at the success of these therapies underscores the significance of the mind-body connection and points out how important it is to manage emotional and physical stress. There’s a well-established, science-backed connection between the gut and the brain, which functional medicine focuses on quite a bit, and the efficacy of these alternative interventions certainly supports that.
In our clinic, we’ve observed improvements in patients experiencing constipation, post-meal bloating, and acid reflux after performing a one-week trial of a hiatal hernia self-adjustment maneuver.
The self-adjustment maneuver involves applying pressure in a downward fashion with the fingers to the area of the abdomen about one inch below the sternum and one inch to the left below the rib cage (this is the area of the GEJ). This maneuver may help reduce the symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
We’ve seen several cases where chronic constipation has significantly improved following this maneuver. Hiatal hernia can be considered in patients with a clinical history of digestive health issues or in those who aren’t responding to typical treatment.
Osteopathic treatments for GERD (and possibly hiatal hernia) have been shown to improve overall symptoms by increasing pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) — less pressure means more GERD. In a 2013 randomized controlled trial looking at the effects of osteopathic treatment on the LES, the participants didn’t have hiatal hernia. However, having reduced LES pressure occurs with hiatal hernia and is a risk factor for GERD, so the increase in LES pressure seen in this study suggests that osteopathic treatment may be beneficial for hiatal hernia [21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Myofascial release therapy (MFT) may also be a viable avenue for manual therapies for treating hiatal hernia. The best research shows its effectiveness for treating GERD, and since it’s a primary symptom of hiatal hernia, it could serve as a possible treatment [22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Furthermore, there’s a sliding component to hiatal hernia (in which the GEJ slides in and out of the chest while swallowing), and this study showed that the MFT intervention can improve the sliding component. More work in this area needs to be done to better understand how this therapy can help patients with hiatal hernia.
Oral neuromuscular training serves to improve swallowing and GERD symptoms. The training used in a 2018 study employed an acrylic oral medical device (IQoro) that participants placed in their mouths and then pulled forward on, keeping their lips sealed. This therapy was done every day for six months and was effective for normal-weight subjects and subjects with obesity. In fact, severely obese patients seemed to show the most improvement [23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Treatments for GERD and hiatal hernia overlap significantly, as do the symptoms. While there are a number of conventional interventions, there are also a number of helpful CAIM treatments that are just as effective and far less invasive than surgery. While there’s no evidence to support that any treatment short of surgery can physically change the anatomy of a hiatal hernia, in this case, getting at the source of the symptoms is actually an effective strategy, which means working on relieving GERD.
A combination of diet and lifestyle changes, supplements, herbs, mind-body therapies, and/or manual therapies can help answer the question of how to fix hiatal hernia yourself. For additional medical advice, book an appointment with the Ruscio Institute. We’d love to help.
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