Pilates for Endometriosis

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a common disorder among women of childbearing age. It is painful and in some cases is the cause of female infertility. The lining that grows in the uterus, called the endometrium, is shed every month during menses. When a woman has endometriosis, there is a growth of endometrial cells outside of the uterus that attaches to other organs in the pelvic cavity, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and on the outer side of the uterus itself. It is a progressive disease that can, and often does return after treatment. Abnormal menstrual bleeding, painful periods, and pain during intercourse are just a few of the symptoms associated with this disease.

What Causes It?

The cause of endometriosis remains unknown although there are different theories posited that could help to understand it. One theory suggests that retrograde menstruation, the backing up of menstrual flow into the fallopian tubes and the pelvic and abdominal cavity during menstruation, deposited endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. The problem with this theory is that women have retrograde menstruation in varying degrees yet not all of them have endometriosis.

Another theory says that areas lining the pelvic organs have primitive cells that are able to morph into other tissue forms, such as endometrial tissue. This is called coelomic metaplasia. It is also possible that a direct transfer of endometrial cells to other parts of the pelvic cavity occurred during surgery. This could be supported by the fact that endometrial implants are sometimes seen in abdominal scars, like cesarean and episiotomy scars.

How Does Endometriosis Affect Women?

Regardless the cause, endometriosis is painful and can really only be treated with hormone therapy or surgery. However, the pain can be constant at times and draining as well. There can be pain with ovulation, adhesion pain, pain caused by inflammation, pain during bowel movements or urination, pain during body motion and pain during intercourse. But, the most difficult pain comes with menstruation. There is no rhyme or reason to the severity of the pain. A woman can have few adhesions and ongoing, disabling pain or she can have many adhesions and far less pain.

Managing the Pain

What is important for a woman with endometriosis is the ability to manage the pain, which often resides in the pelvic area and in the back. Cramping in the abdomen and lower back that radiates into the rectal area and even down the legs is quite common. Pain medications, muscle relaxants and other types of drugs are often administered to reduce inflammation and manage the pain. Although exercise can sometimes be challenging, especially during menstruation, low impact activities like yoga, walking and swimming have been found to be helpful in pain management.

What is Pilates?

Another very successful method of dealing with the discomfort is Pilates. The discipline is named for the man who developed it 100 years ago. German-born Joseph H. Pilates was a sickly child who was incapacitated by asthma and rickets, yet obsessed with the concept of the perfect body. Over the years he developed a system based on the ancient Greek physique and the meditative strength of the Far East. The system was originally called "contrology" and consists of exercises that require intense concentration centered on a strong abdomen (core), deep stretching, and focused breathing. As a result of his own discipline, Joseph Pilates became a boxer, diver, skier, gymnast, yoga devotee and living evidence of the efficacy of his program.

His method was used to help wounded British soldiers during World War 1 to rehabilitate after injuries sustained in battle. He used bed springs he took from their hospital beds to assist them in the techniques in order to expand their range of motion. From that concept, the equipment that has been especially designed for Pilates was born.

How Can Pilates Help Endometriosis Pain?

Because Pilates exercises (there are more than 500 of them) are so focused and effective, using the practice of Pilates core workouts helps a woman with endometriosis to gain strength in the very areas where pain resides. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles which support virtually any type of movement. When performed correctly with attention to alignment and using the muscles in the way they are needed, Pilates exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The net effect is that of doing high-powered Kegels with the addition of full-body movement.

Before beginning any exercise program, a woman dealing with endometriosis should check in with her doctor. There has been great success associated with Pilate for endometriosis.


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