Obturator hernia

Dr Henry Knipe and A.Prof Frank Gaillard et al.

Obturator hernias are characterized by bowel herniating between the obturator and the pectineus muscles. They are a rare type of abdominal hernia and can be very difficult to diagnose clinically.

Typically obturator hernias occur in elderly women 2,3 or patients with chronically raised intra-abdominal pressure (e.g. ascites, COPD, chronic cough) 3. It has been suggested that the female predominance of these hernias is the result of pregnancy, which leads to relaxation of the pelvic peritoneum and a wider and more horizontal obturator canal 3.

In general obturator, hernias are asymptomatic unless 1:

The obturator foramen is occluded by the obturator membrane which is pierced anterosuperiorly by the obturator artery, vein and nerve. This neurovascular bundle then travels along a 2-3 cm oblique tunnel, the obturator canal. It is through this deficiency that an obturator hernia occurs. Presumably, due to the sigmoid colon on the left, these hernias are more common on the right 3

The layers that the hernial neck passes through include:

The hernia will then lie superficial to obturator externus and deep and inferior to pectineus muscle.

The hernia may contain any of the following:

The diagnosis is readily made on CT/MRI with either fluid or bowel able to be traced along the aforementioned course to lie in the medial upper thigh.

Signs of complication including:

Treatment involves surgery and repair of the hernial orifice. 

Howship-Romberg sign is named for the German neurologist, Moritz Heinrich Romberg (1795-1873) 5, and British surgeon John Howship (1781-1841) 4.

If a hernia contains bowel or can be clearly traced through the obturator foramen, then there are very few alternative diagnoses.

If seen with ultrasound, it may be mistaken for a bursa or acetabular labral cyst.

Share article

Article information

rID: 7111
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Obturator herniation
  • Obturator hernias
  • Obturator herniae

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Obturator hernias.
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 4
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

     Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

     Thank you for updating your details.