March is Endometriosis (Endo) Awareness month. With 1 in 10 women affected and a diagnosis timeline of 8-10 years, we need to start the conversation of what is Endo? Endo is a chronic inflammatory condition in which endometrial like tissue grows outside of the uterus. This tissue (lesions) can be found on the ovaries, bowel, fallopian tubes, or intestines. It can be found as far as the diaphragm, kidneys and even the brain. This tissue/lesions acts like endometrial tissue leading to bleeding and breakdown each cycle which can cause scar tissue and adhesions. Unfortunately, there is no cure. The good news though is that exercise can help.
Add movement into your life daily
Exercise and movement have the amazing ability to increase anti-inflammatory markers in the body. By increasing these markers, inflammation in the body can be reduced. Exercise and movement also work to increase blood flow around the body, including the abdomen. This can assist in improving clearance of the by-products of inflammation and its symptoms as seen with Endo which can include; fatigue, pain, gastrointestinal upset (any Endo girls also have IBS?), infections, weight disturbance and anxiety and depression.
What does this look like?
Walking, swimming, cycling, Yoga, gym/classes, modified Pilates, team sport – activities that you enjoy and help to increase your weekly movement.
Restoring length and strength in the body
As Endo is a chronic inflammatory condition it causes women substantial pain. The brain responds to pain by contracting your muscles in an effort to ‘protect’ you, but this only leads to further restriction in your movement. Think of days and nights curled up in a ball on the floor. This leads to the muscles through your front line (abdominal, chest, anterior hip) becoming extremely tight, with the posterior muscles weakening.
Although exercising or adding some movement in at this time seems like the last thing you would want to do, this can actually be extremely helpful. A tailored movement program can reduce tightness held through your anterior line. It can also assist in increasing blood flow to painful areas like your abdomen and pelvis and can decrease your pain.
The pelvic floor can also become affected and tight which can lead to other symptoms such as urinary stress incontinence (leaking), constipation (which may already be affected by IBS) and hip/lower back pain. Here breath work and stretching of the muscles surrounding the pelvis can help. You may also be referred to a Women’s/Pelvic Health Physiotherapist to assist you to internally release these muscles.
Exercise that is individualised to you
The formation of endothelial tissue arises from estrogen, so hormone management plays a key role in managing Endo. Specific forms of exercise can help to balance your hormones, along with insulin and cortisol. The formation of a regular exercise routine has protective effects against conditions that involve inflammatory processes as it induces increased anti-inflammatory and antioxidant markers in the body.
This routine and type of exercise should look different person to person, based on your current symptoms and cycle whilst also considering your physical, emotional, and mental health.
If you need help managing your Endometriosis or are unsure where to start book an exercise physiology appointment so we can help support you.