Endometriosis and Exercise

1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis (endo). I have recently had new clients start with me as well as friends who suffer from this debilitating condition which can impact all aspects of their life, not just the physical symptoms, but also financial relationships, emotional and mental health aspects. Like the scientist at heart that I am this lead me on a tangent to try and find out more about endometriosis and the impact exercise can have. What I have found is that not a lot of people are aware of this condition or have heard about it but don’t realise the impact it has. The second thing that I found is that there is a lot of frustration from endo sufferers feeling like people aren’t recognising the impact of their condition. I am merely writing this as an observation of my findings so far and trying to find ways in which exercise can be incorporated to improve quality of life for women with endo.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissues that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside. This causes pain and sometimes infertility.

What is the treatment for Endometriosis?

1.     Medications

2.     Surgical intervention

3.     Complementary treatments (eg: psychology, physiotherapy, naturopathy, etc)

Women’s Health Physios can look at releasing muscle spasms that may be contributing to pain or may look at assisting with pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.

Psychologists work with women with endometriosis as chronic pain syndromes such as this, usually have 2 aspects: the stimulus of pain (endo) and the perception (processing) of pain that occurs in the brain. Psychologists can assist in helping you with your perception of pain, your coping mechanisms and teaching strategies to manage associated problems, such ass the impact of chronic pain on relationships, stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings.

Where does Exercise Physiology fit in?

Regular exercise has been shown to have protective effects against diseases that involve inflammatory processes since it induces an increase in systemic levels of cytokines with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and also acts by reducing estrogen levels. Currently there isn’t enough research to say definitively exercise can be prescribed as an adjunct therapy for endometriosis, but some studies have suggested that this is an area in need of more research as exercise may positively impact a women suffering from endo by:

·      Increasing her mood and decreasing the chances of depression and anxiety.

·      Gentle exercise may decrease systemic inflammation.

·      If muscle spasms are present from adhesions from endo or persistant pain, the correct exercise and improved functional movement may help decrease muscle imbalances and restore better function making it easier to move for day to day life and exercise.

·      Mobility, stretching and gentle core strength exercises combined with cognitive behavioural therapy (psychological intervention) showed a decrease in salivary cortisol levels and improved self rated levels of vitality in women with endo.

·      Women with endo reported lower levels of physical activity. Developing a positive relationship with exercise and finding something they can manage during pain episodes is important to decrease the risk of secondary health issues from sedentary behaviours.

I am a huge advocate for finding out ways people can exercise no matter what their health situation is and although the research is limited there is definitely a role for exercise physiologists to work within a multi disciplinary team to improve the health and fitness of women who have endometriosis.