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Did you know that simply breathing incorrectly when you lift weights could cause you to develop hemorrhoids? In addition to being pretty painful, this condition can also sideline your powerlifting routine until the hemorrhoids heal.
Check out this guide to learn what hemorrhoids are, how to treat them, and how to prevent them from developing when weightlifting.
Hemorrhoids are a fairly common condition among adults. In fact, a study of Americans with colonoscopy screenings revealed that 1 in 3 had hemorrhoids. Additional research estimates that roughly 3 out of 4 adults will develop hemorrhoids at some point in their lifetime. High-level strength athletes, like powerlifters, can be more susceptible to suffering from hemorrhoids simply due to the exerting nature of their sport.
So what are hemorrhoids exactly?
The textbook version will tell you that hemorrhoids are enlarged veins located in your lower rectum, either inside the rectum or beneath the skin around the anus. Akin to varicose veins, hemorrhoids, also sometimes referred to as “piles”, remain a mystery in part to medical professionals, however, it is strongly believed that increased pressure from straining can contribute to them.
When it comes to weight training and powerlifting, breathing techniques can influence the way air flows as you lift and lower weights. Heavy grunting and holding your breath can actually push air down into the lungs placing added pressure on your lower organs. This can quickly translate to extra force on the veins all the way down in your rectum.
Because people are continuing to pursue weightlifting and resistance training later in life, there is an increased risk of developing hemorrhoids. The skin and tissues supporting the anus actually weaken and stretch as you age making the entire area more susceptible to vein dysfunction and swelling.
In addition to heavy lifting, other factors can increase your risk of hemorrhoids including straining during a bowel movement, standing or sitting for prolonged periods, obesity, and a low-fiber diet.
Symptoms of Hemorrhoids
Fortunately, many hemorrhoids aren’t even noticeable, especially if they are located internally. Sometimes, however, the hemorrhoids can prolapse and effectively pop out outside of the rectum. When this happens, you may experience mild to severe symptoms including:
- Bleeding during bowel movements – typically painless, you may notice red blood in the toilet or on your toilet tissue
- Swelling, pain, and discomfort in and around your anus
- Irritation and an itchy feeling around the anal region
- A sensitive or painful lump protruding from the anal area
Occasionally, a clot can form in the blood that is pooled in the swollen vein. This is known as a thrombosed hemorrhoid and while not life-threatening, these can be extremely painful and result in severe swelling and a hard lump near your anus.
In most cases, hemorrhoids will actually go away on their own with simple home treatments and temporary lifestyle changes. If extreme strain from weightlifting resulted in a hemorrhoid, your doctor may recommend you avoid any similar strength training activities until the hemorrhoids have healed.
Hemorrhoids shouldn’t put the kibosh on your entire exercise routine though. Simple steps can help relieve symptoms until your body effectively reabsorbs the excess blood and fluid and returns the vein to normal. Try:
- Low-impact exercise like taking a 30-minute walk on your home treadmill
- Strengthening the perineal region with Kegel exercises
- Applying over-the-counter ointments to alleviate itching (i.e. hydrocortisone)
- Lightly pressing an ice pack covered in cloth on it to relieve swelling
- Taking over-the-counter NSAIDS and pain relievers to reduce pain
- Soaking in a warm sitz bath to soothe the area and mitigate sphincter spasming
- Improving fiber intake to soften stool for easier bowel movements
- Avoiding added irritation from clothing, scratching, rubbing with toilet tissue, etc.
In the event of a developing a thrombosed hemorrhoid, surgical intervention within 72 hours has been shown to be an effective method of quickly alleviating symptoms. A doctor may lance and drain the hemorrhoid or use alternative procedures like rubber band ligation (wrapping a degradable rubber band around the hemorrhoid to starve it of blood), cryotherapy, and injections to relieve symptoms.
If so many adults develop hemorrhoids, are they essentially inevitable? Not necessarily, at least not the painful external ones. Just like wearing a compression knee sleeve for weightlifting to prevent joint instability, If you lift weights regularly (especially if you are over 40), you can take keen preventative steps to stay hemorrhoid-free.
Consume an adequate amount of soluble and insoluble fiber, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and keep stool soft, reduce the amount of time you spend sitting on the toilet, and engage in regular physical activity. Also, don’t ignore an urge to go to the bathroom and avoid straining on the toilet.
When it comes to strength training and powerlifting, experts recommend perfecting breathing techniques that help you push air out towards your abdominal wall when lifting instead of down towards your anus. Exhaling fully after each lift is critical too. Regular hydration during your lifting circuit as well as wearing clothes that won’t rub and add friction to the area will help also help.
Can I Lift With Hemorrhoids?
In short, let your doctor answer that. If you have no pain but do experience chronic bloody stool, there may be an underlying condition that is not hemorrhoid-related which you will want to have your doctor investigate. In rare cases, a hemorrhoid can become strangulated or bleed so much that it actually affects your blood iron counts and leads to anemia.
If you are convinced you do have a hemorrhoid and don’t want it to get worse (and potentially burst), see your doctor and let them give you all the facts so that you are making the most informed decision about sticking with or pausing your weightlifting routine.
Racking up your best bench press yet without developing nagging hemorrhoids is possible with a little knowledge and the right technique. Save yourself the trouble (and pain) of this very common condition with the smart moves mentioned above.