Endometriosis, Exercise, and the Pelvic Floor
As many women with endometriosis (endo) know all too well, exercise and physical activity are important in managing symptoms of pain and inflammation as well as maintenance of bone, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular health.
On the other side of this coin is the fact that it can be difficult to get up and move in the fits of an endometriosis pain episode. “Motion is lotion” as they say, and gentle yoga, Pilates, and cardiovascular exercise can help reduce inflammation and decrease pain.
Endorphins are released with exercise, and these “happy” chemicals can also help with coping strategies for endometriosis symptoms.
Does Exercising Help With Endometriosis?
The amount and intensity of physical activity needed for optimal health varies for each woman living with endometriosis; however, these tips can help provide an overall guide.
Working with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health and who has education in endometriosis is also helpful in curating a program to fit your unique needs.
When considering an exercise routine, it is important to remember that endo adhesions can cause disruption in the orientation of the pelvic organs and in the abdominal muscles themselves.
Additionally, laparoscopic surgery and other abdominal and pelvic surgeries can result in scar tissue in the abdomen. Endo adhesions and scar tissue can result in the disruption of the normal length, tension, and tone of the abdominal muscles.
Retraining the muscles and the pelvic floor how to properly contract in coordination is key to providing stability to the body through the core muscles.
Providing stability to the body during exercise and functional movements of daily living is a matter of mechanics. If the trunk is thought of as a house of our organs, the diaphragm forms the ceiling, the pelvic floor forms the floor, and the abdominals and deep back muscles form the walls.
Abdominal Muscles and Endometriosis
When the abdominals are affected by endometriosis, the walls of our “organ house” become weaker, providing less stability for the ceiling and floor. This alters our intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and can affect the piston-like mechanics of the diaphragm and pelvic floor, which work together to create efficient breathing.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the abdominal muscles work in symphony with the pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and small muscles in the spine called the multifidi to stabilize the trunk, promote effective breathing, and maintain IAP.
The diaphragm and pelvic floor work in a piston-like manner wherein as the diaphragm drops, drawing breath into the lungs, the pelvic floor also drops. To expel air, it is vital that the diaphragm returns to its resting point and the pelvic floor lifts back up.
This requires that the muscles maintaining the walls of the trunk are strong and hold form. Thus, the abdominal and other core muscles are important in maintaining proper IAP for breathing, posture, and bracing the spine during functional movements as well as when you cough, sneeze, or have a bowel movement.
Exercises You Can Do At Home
Retraining the core muscles to contract in coordination with your breathing for optimal exercise requires some practice. One exercise to get you started is the pelvic brace exercise.
Pelvic Brace Exercise
To perform the pelvic brace exercise, lie down on your back with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale gently. Then exhale and contract the muscles of the core by imagining that you are shutting off the flow of urine while drawing your abdominals slightly inward.
Your gluteal muscles should not be contracting, and your pelvis should remain perfectly still, not rocking or tilting. Initially, try to hold the contraction for three to five seconds. Rest for five seconds.
Repeat 10 times and do two or three sets.
Conversely, it is important to master the coordination of relaxing and expanding the pelvic floor, also referred to as a pelvic floor “drop.”
The Pelvic Floor Drop Exercise
Lie down on your back with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale and feel the pelvic floor expand gently away from your sit bones. It might help to envision that the muscles around the urethra, vaginal opening, and rectum are a bubble gently expanding down and outward.
Try to maintain the drop for a count of three (without holding your breath), then relax and allow the muscles to return to a resting position. Repeat this 10 times and perform two or three sets.
These basic exercises are cornerstone exercises that allow for flexibility, coordination, and control of the core. They can be implemented throughout the day and added to a preexisting exercise regime.
A DPT can provide additional exercises, pelvic floor physical therapy guidance, and modifications to help you find a routine that honors where you are in your stage of endometriosis to help you reach your goals.