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Part 1: What is Endometriosis?

Part 1: What is Endometriosis?

March 19, 2021

You may have heard of it.  You may even know someone who has it or maybe you have been diagnosed with it yourself.  But what exactly it is, or what you can do about it? Keep reading for some basic information and key tips in navigating the symptoms…

Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Doesn’t sound like much, but this tissue can cause significant issues for women. The endometrial tissue can create adhesions and restrictions between tissues that lead to a range of symptoms for many women. These restrictions can cause tension in the pelvic floor muscles and may result in decreased abdominal organ mobility affecting bowel, bladder and sexual function as well as fertility. 

The endometrium is part of what is shed each month during your menstrual cycle. However, when it grows outside of the uterus, there isn’t a way for the tissue to shed. So the tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds which creates inflammation and adhesions can develop. When endometriosis creates a cyst at the ovaries, it is known as an endometrioma. Obviously, the restrictions in the tissues and organs can lead a number of symptoms, not all of which seem directly correlated with endometriosis.

Common symptoms of endometriosis are:

  • pain during menstruation 

  • pain during or after intercourse or orgasm

  • abdominal, pelvic, rectal or lower back pain 

  • pain during ovulation

  • painful bowel movements

  • painful urination

  • bladder urgency and frequency

  • rectal bleeding or blood in urine

  • fatigue and irritability

  • digestive difficulties, bloating and constipation, 

  • nausea and diarrhea, especially during your period

  • infertility

  • low back and pelvic pain

  • other digestive and hormonal symptoms including fatigue, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, etc.

So why does it hurt?

Obviously when there is tightness and inflammation in the body, that can create discomfort. Additionally, the restrictions can cause muscle spasms, decrease the mobility and elasticity of the abdominal and pelvic tissues and organs. The combination of the bleeding, bloating, tissue tension and inflammation can also aggravate nerves in the affected areas too.

Diagnosis

Oftentimes, women will come into the clinic and note that their provider has diagnosed them with endometriosis. What commonly happens in these circumstances, is that the provider has made the diagnosis based a group of symptoms that the patient presents with. But is that really the best we have these days?? Well, in short no – but there is more to the story.

The “gold standard” method of diagnosing endometriosis is through surgery where the physician can clearly see the adhesions that have been formed, cut them free and even take a sample to be sent to the lab for the tissues to be analyzed. However, this is not something to take lightly. Even though this surgery is performed laparoscopically (with a few small incisions), it is still surgery. And a patient has to weigh the costs and benefits of having a clear diagnosis and having surgery.

Women have a range of severity of endometriosis – as is common with many other conditions. If someone’s life isn’t significantly limited and impacted by their symptoms, surgery may not be worth all of the time, necessary healing and money to go through such an endeavor. It is something that each patient has to sit with and decide for themselves. Often providers, will start with hormonal birth control options as a means to assist with managing the woman’s cycles which can ease some of the symptoms.

What conservative methods can be utilized?

Endometriosis can be challenging for sure. However for many women, it doesn’t have to be a life long battle. It is often something that takes a little effort to get ahead of the symptoms and manage them through the course of life. Common conservative methods for managing endometriosis include:

Acupuncture. This combined with herbal medicine can be a great method for helping to improve better hormonal balance, and decreasing pain during a flare.

Comfort measures such as heat, castor oil pack, anti-inflammatory and other pain medications. These can be used to stay ahead of the pain. When dealing with pain of any sort, it is always easier to bring it back down to a more tolerable level before it gets out of control. Similar to a fire: a campfire is easier to contain and put out than a wild fire.

Dietary adjustments. Cutting gluten, dairy and other processed foods out of your diet and avoiding inflammatory and phyto-estrogenic foods may decrease symptoms.  Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements, and foods rich in these substances are also indicated.

Pelvic floor therapy.  A pelvic floor therapist can assess for abdominal restrictions and pelvic floor muscle involvement that may be contributing to your symptoms. They may use visceral manipulation, myofascial release techniques, therapeutic exercises, and management strategies to decrease pain and other symptoms, improve bowel, bladder, digestive and sexual function.

As with any conservative methods, they may take more time and consistency for results to be notable. Don’t give up on your healing journey. Though it can be challenging, it can so much more rewarding once you find the right combination of care for your symptoms.

Don’t wait to get your healing journey started! Give us a call today and we’ll help guide you through the process and connect you with any other providers that may be beneficial to optimizing your healing journey.

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