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endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain

Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain

How Endometriosis can cause or contribute to chronic pelvic pain, and what pelvic floor therapy can do to help alleviate it

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the uterus (endometrial tissue is tissue that usually grows inside of the uterus and sheds each month). The most common area for it to grow is in the abdominal cavity, where it can implant on the surface of other structures including the ovaries, bladder, rectum, and along the walls of the abdomen and pelvis.

The true prevalence of endometriosis is unknown since it takes a laparoscopic procedure to confirm the diagnosis, and many women either have no symptoms or seek no treatment (Signorello, Harlow, Cramer, Spiegelman, & Hill, 1997). However, up to 78% of women undergoing laparoscopic investigation for infertility and up to 82% of women investigated for pelvic pain were found to have endometriosis in one study (Schenken, 1996; Wellbery).

Actress Lena Dunham has been vocal about her experiences with endometriosis, most recently publishing an essay in American Vogue on electing to have a total hysterectomy after years of chronic pain due to the condition.

The most commonly reported symptom of endometriosis is pain that affects quality of life. This can include pain during menstruation, painful premenstrual cramps, pain with sex and penetration, bladder pain, and pain with bowel movements. In addition to contributing to pelvic pain, endometriosis has also been tied to infertility (Macer & Taylor, 2012).

The exact way in which endometriosis causes pain is somewhat of a debate

However a leading theory breaks down the issue as follows:

Endometrial tissue, whether inside the uterus or outside of it, is responsive to estrogen levels in the body (Gazvani & Templeton, 2002; Kitawaki et al., 2002), and these tissues grow and shed with the monthly cycle. While endometrial tissue in the uterus has a place to exit (via the vaginal canal), the areas of endometrial tissue in other areas of the body do not have a way to be shed, therefore causing peripheral and centralized pain, myofascial pain, along with physical changes in the body and inflammation. Endometriosis pain has also been found to fluctuate with mood and stress levels (Morotti, Vincent, & Becker, 2017).

Endo-Related Pain

Inflammation, scar tissue, and adhesions

Typically, organs and tissues in the abdomen and pelvis are slippery and have movement. Internal scar tissue can form into wide bands called adhesions, which attach to organs, muscles, and fascia, causing things to stick together and create problems such as abdominal and pelvic pain, vomiting, bloating, inability to pass gas, constipation, and painful sex.

With monthly cycles of growth and shedding, endometrial tissues can cause inflammation and the formation of adhesions. Layered on top of the monthly tissue changes, clients with endo often undergo many invasive diagnostic and treatment surgeries, including laparoscopic procedures and hysterecomies, which add even more scar tissue to the area.

Myofascial dysfunction and pain

Researchers have recently confirmed that endometriosis is tied to sensitization of pain receptors in the peripheral and central nervous system as well as myofascial dysfunction and pain (Stratton, Khachikyan, Sinaii, Ortiz, & Shah, 2015).

Myofascial pain is a common disorder that affects muscles in the body. People with myofascial pain may find hard nodules, or “trigger points” in the muscle that are painful with applied pressure. For people with endo, they may have trigger points in the abdominal and pelvic areas that transfer pain down into the lower pelvis - into the vaginal canal, pelvic floor, and rectum. The resulting pain causes the muscles of the pelvic floor to guard in protection, causing a negative spiral of even more muscle tension and pain.

Pelvic Floor Therapy: A treatment for endo-related pelvic pain.

Pelvic floor physical therapy for endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain can help manage the pain, including pain brought on by endo-related medical procedures, thus helping to restore quality of life, sexual function, and empower those with endo with the tools they need to help manage symptoms in the long run.

Although pelvic floor therapy cannot reverse the endometrial growth that has occurred in the body, it can help manage the pain in the following ways:

  • Training in self treatment techniques including foam rolling, lymphatic massage, autonomic relaxation, and stress reduction techniques
  • Manual therapy to treat connective tissue dysfunction and myofascial trigger points
  • Visceral mobilization (gentle massage techniques that loosen internal adhesions and restore movement to the organs including the intestine, bladder, uterus, and ovaries)
  • Postural training and therapeutic exercise to treat dysfunctional movement
  • Pelvic floor therapy to treat painful sex, sensitive tissues, pain with bowel movements
  • Exercises for pelvic muscles to reduce pain, improve bladder retention, improve bowel function, and increase the flow of blood to the area
  • Therapeutic yoga to improve lymphatic drainage and reduce chronic pain
  • Neuromuscular re-education and autogenic relaxation to reduce chronic muscle over-activity, reduce pain, and improve sleep

Endometriosis Links:

Resources:

Aredo, J. V., Heyrana, K. J., Karp, B. I., Shah, J. P., & Stratton, P. (2017). Relating Chronic Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis to Signs of Sensitization and Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 35(1), 88–97. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0036-1597123

Becker CM, D'Amato RJ. Angiogenesis and antiangiogenic therapy in endometriosis. Microvasc Res. 2007;74(2-3):121-30

Bloski, T., & Pierson, R. (2008). Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain: Unraveling the Mystery Behind this Complex Condition. Nursing for Women’s Health, 12(5), 382–395. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-486X.2008.00362.x

Macer, M. L., & Taylor, H. S. (2012). Endometriosis and Infertility: A review of the pathogenesis and treatment of endometriosis-associated infertility. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 39(4), 535–549. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogc.2012.10.002

Morotti M, Vincent K, Becker CM. Mechanisms of pain in endometriosis. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2017

Stratton, P., Khachikyan, I., Sinaii, N., Ortiz, R., & Shah, J. (2015). Association of Chronic Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis With Signs of Sensitization and Myofascial Pain. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 125(3), 719–728. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000000663

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.**

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I wanted to thank you so much for helping me get through something I thought I may never be able to. We have achieved pain-free intercourse and this has really solidified our marriage. We are so grateful to you for all the work you do! Thank you!!

-- R.S.

Testimonial by Y.L. (mom of 2)

After having my second baby via C-section I searched for months to try to find help for my lower back pain and separated abdominal muscles. I finally came across Heather Jeffcoat via a mommy blog. I reached out to her via email and set my first appointment. My first appointment went amazing … she listened to what my symptoms, check my separation and explained to me in detail what the next steps would be. Not only did my abdominal separation go from 3 to about 1 -1/2 but my back has pain has significantly reduced. I’m personally recommending all my mommy friends to Heather!

Y.L. (mom of 2)

Testimonial by Fritzette H.

I went to Heather after the birth of my third child. It was lucky, really, that I was referred to her, because my doctor had referred me to a surgeon for a possible hysterectomy or pelvic wall rebuild. Thankfully, I went to Heather before undergoing either surgery, she was able to fix the problem. She has studied extensively in women's health--even written a book about it--and was able to diagnose my problem, suggest a course of treatment (6 weeks), and then follow through with said treatment. By the end, as she said, I was as good as gold. Boy, was it worth it! Though uncomfortable to talk about, much less write about, it is worth getting the word out there. If you have painful intercourse, especially after birth or other trauma, the treatment may be as simple as Physical Therapy (with Heather, of course). I highly recommend her.

-- Fritzette H., 3/24/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Lauren B.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has been such an answer to prayer, i'm so glad I found them! I've been struggling with vaginismus my whole life, but didn't have a name for it until about 6 or 7 months ago. Even once I did have a name for it though, I didn't know where to begin in getting help. My OB/GYN had me get a set of dilators, but I couldn't even insert the smallest one by myself. Most times I tried I just ended up frustrated and in tears. I felt really alone, like I was broken and didn't have the energy to keep trying. When I got engaged a few months ago though, I realized I needed to get answers so i wasn't dreading my honeymoon.

Read more: Testimonial by Lauren B.

Testimonial by Lauren B.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has been such an answer to prayer, i'm so glad I found them! I've been struggling with vaginismus my whole life, but didn't have a name for it until about 6 or 7 months ago. Even once I did have a name for it though, I didn't know where to begin in getting help. My OB/GYN had me get a set of dilators, but I couldn't even insert the smallest one by myself. Most times I tried I just ended up frustrated and in tears. I felt really alone, like I was broken and didn't have the energy to keep trying. When I got engaged a few months ago though, I realized I needed to get answers so i wasn't dreading my honeymoon.

Read more: Testimonial by Lauren B.

Testimonial by A.B.

Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
-- A.B.

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