Joining the Endometriosis Summit all the way from Oregon, Dr. Amanda Olson, PT DPT, PRPC is a specialist in all things pelvic floor and exercise. A long time faculty member for the APTA, she will share her expertise on running and endometriosis. Amanda also created, designs for and own Intimate Rose, a pelvic health products company for dilators, kegel exercise weights, pelvic wands, and pelvic health supplements. She writes:
As many people with endometriosis (endo) know all too well, exercise and physical activity are important in managing symptoms of pain, 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. The amount and intensity of physical activity needed for optimal health varies for each person living with endo, 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 co-ordination is key to restoring stability to the body.
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. When the abdominals are affected by endometriosis, the walls of our “organ house” become weaker, which provides 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 intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) for breathing, posture, and bracing the spine during functional movements as well as when you cough, sneeze, have a bowel movement.
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: 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 3-5 seconds. Rest for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times, and do 2-3 sets.
Conversely, it is important to master the co-ordination of relaxing and expanding the pelvic floor, also referred to as a pelvic floor “drop”. To perform a pelvic floor drop:
Pelvic 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 sits 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 3 (without holding your breath), then relax and allow the muscles to return to a resting position. Repeat this 10 times and perform 2-3 sets.
These basic exercises are cornerstone exercises which allow for flexibility, co-ordination, and control of core. These can implement throughout the day and added to a pre-existing exercise regime. A pelvic physical therapist can provide additional exercises, manual therapy, and modifications to help you find a routine that honors where you are in your stage of endo, to help you reach your goals.