Pelvic Floor Mythbusters: Endometriosis Edition

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT and Amy Stein PT, DPT

Featuring excerpts from Beating Endo by  Iris Kerin Orbuch, MD and Amy Stein D.P.T.

Welcome back to our Pelvic Floor Mythbusters series! We have explored the effects of prolonged sitting and pee holding and now it’s time to move on to endometriosis. With endo, there are so many different myths, concepts, and sorta truths, that we figured we would address them lightning round style so we can cover as much ground as possible.

Endometriosis (endo) comes with a lot of misconceptions and because of this, the time from symptom onset to official diagnosis and treatment is long. The diagnosis of endo can often take in excess of a full decade to get, which delays further intervention and prolongs suffering. It’s a huge deal and is the reason why Dr. Amy Stein, PT, DPT and Dr. Iris Orbuch, MD. set to the task of writing a book where they bust endo myths right, left, and sideways. Beating Endo goes into much more detail than we do here. If you wish to purchase it, you may here

So without further adieu, here is a list of myths and truths taken from Beating Endo:Beating Endo Cover!

 

Common Endo Myths

The abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are rarely affected by endometriosis.

False: Constipation, frequent urination or retention, Pain with vaginal penetration from endometriosis causes tightening of the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; So too does assuming the fetal position which is our go to pose when we are in pain. Both contribute to tight abdominal and pelvic floor muscles which causes pain.

The pelvic floor and abdominal muscles do not cause bladder, bowel, sexual dysfunction or abdominal-pelvic pain in patients with endometriosis.

False: Tight pelvic floor muscles caused by years of straining or reflexive tightening due to pain, often cause a severe amount of pain which results in further tightening and shortening of the pelvic floor muscles. Good news is that pelvic floor physical therapy benefits most people who have been experiencing abdomino-pelvic or sexual pain and/or are straining due to ongoing bladder and bowel symptoms.

Hysterectomy is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Hysterectomy is neither a treatment nor a cure. By definition endometriosis consists of cells similar to those in the lining of the uterus but found outside the uterus. Only surgical ‘excision’ removes endometriosis cells.

Medical menopause is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Explanation: Just because your medicines give you hot flashes doesn’t mean your endometriosis is going away. The best treatment approach is to meet with an Endo specialist to discuss options, and in most cases PT management. As well surgical excision has much better results than ablation of Endometriosis.

There is no correlation between quantity of endometriosis and severity of disease.

Truth: Even if you have a minimal amount of endometriosis, you can be in debilitating pain with lots of symptoms and in most cases dietary changes, physical therapy and mindfulness practices can help manage a lot of your symptoms.

Teenagers are too young to have endometriosis.

False: Teenagers can have endometriosis and their endometriosis can cause debilitating symptoms.

Pregnancy is a cure for endometriosis.

False: Just plain no. Pregnancy does not cure endometriosis.

Ablation surgery is the same as excision surgery.

False: Not even close. Excision surgery is the proper treatment for endometriosis. Ablation surgery, burns the surface of the endometriosis lesion but leaves the bulk of endometrial implants behind.

Surprising Endo Facts:

Fact: Physical therapy (pelvic PT) can help many suffering from the many pains and symptoms of Endo, including back, abdominal and pelvic pain, bladder, bowel and sexual function.

Fact: The majority of patients with Endometriosis require pelvic floor physical therapy. Pelvic floor PT can be instrumental in the healing process and can help abdominal-pelvic pain, bladder and bowel urgency, frequency, retention, incomplete emptying, and any sexual pain related to the musculoskeletal system.

Truth: Painful bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea and bloating are symptoms of endometriosis as well as symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction .

Truth: Painful sex is a symptom of endometriosis as well as a symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Truth: 40 to 50% of women with unexplained infertility is caused by Endometriosis.

Truth: Teens with endometriosis often have acyclic pain, that is, pain at other times of the month rather than only during their period, in addition to cyclic pain.

Truth: Back pain is a symptom of endometriosis.

Truth: If your ultrasound is normal you can still have endometriosis.

Truth: roughly 10% of women have endometriosis. That’s close to 200 million women worldwide. Endometriosis is much more than just bad period pain. 1 in 4 women have pelvic floor dysfunction.

Truth: Endometriosis commonly affects the musculoskeletal system, and in many cases can be a primary contributor to one’s pain and symptoms..

Diet and Endometriosis

Fiona McMahon, DPT

Yellow ribbon
Yellow ribbon, Bone cancer / Osteosarcoma. Endometriosis awareness.

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a condition that is near and dear to our hearts at Beyond Basics Physical therapy. Endometriosis is a gynecological disease that occurs when a tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants itself outside of the uterus in the abdominal and pelvic cavity. It is an inflammatory condition, whose symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Most commonly endo is seen as causing painful periods, but it can also cause bowel and bladder symptoms, issues with fertility, pain with sexual activities and general pain. For the past two years we have done a post about endometriosis during endometriosis awareness month on how musculoskeletal pain can be a contributor or the primary cause of abdomino-pelvic pain condition. To learn more about how the disease affects the body and its symptoms as well as how we treat the condition at BBPT click here:

For this year’s Endometriosis Awareness Day I decided to review an article on how diet may or may not affect endometriosis. The full version is here for free:

http://www.rbmojournal.com/article/S1472-6483(13)00007-2/abstract

About this Article

The article by Fabio Parazzini and his colleagues is a literature review. The point of a literature review is to aggregate many studies on one topic and determine a general trend in the data in one place. A literature review is not as powerful as its cousin a meta-analysis, in which more powerful statistical tools can be applied to interpret the data. Nonetheless, literature reviews can provide us with a general sense of what is going on in a certain field of research.

First things first, let’s talk about the limitations of this review. Designing a single study on endo and diet can be rather difficult. First of all, not all endo is the same. Women with endo can experience vastly different symptoms that don’t always correspond to the amount of endometrial deposits seen on laparoscopy. It can be really difficult for researchers to ensure they have a homogeneous (or similar) study population. Secondly, studying something like diet it usually correlational and not causal. Diet can reflect a lot of other components besides the nutrients going into one’s body. Diet may reflect factors such as culture, wealth, education, geographic region, which all may play independent roles in the diagnosis and progression of endo. Most of the studies examined were based on self-report, which also may not be entirely accurate.

Now that we have the caveats out in the open, let’s talk about why a study like this is useful. Like I said before, this article is an aggregation of multiple other publications. When we see similar results produced by different authors in different groups of people, it lends a little more weight to the individual study’s findings. Most importantly Parazzini is also careful to include information on why a particular food group may be more beneficial or even harmful in the progression of endometriosis.

What the Article Found

Green Vegetables and Fruit

The authors found two studies that show that a higher intake of green fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of endometriosis. They found that the higher the intake of green fruits, specifically (think okra, etc) caused the decreased risk of endometriosis and did not find the same relationship with green vegetables (think kale, spinach, and lettuce). Parazzini notes that green vegetables and particularly fruit are high in a compound called organochlorine, which has been shown in other studies to reduce the risk of endometriosis. Organochlorines are a particularly broad class of molecules and can be found in healthy things but also make up compounds used in industrial purposes. This study is referring to those occurring naturally in vegetables and fruits.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is found in animal products like fatty fish, dairy, and animal kidneys and livers. Its building blocks are found in green and orange vegetables and fruits and can be manufactured into vitamin A in the body. Parazzini and colleagues found mixed results some with no benefit for development of endo and some that did show benefit. No studies showed harm.

Vitamin C and E

These vitamins were not consistently found to be helpful in reducing endometriosis risk. Some studies reported that increased amounts of vitamin C and E intake reduced risk of endometriosis, while other studies failed to yield significant findings. Parazzinni did provide evidence from other studies which demonstrates the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E. Parazinni purposes that because there may be a link between oxidative stress and disease, vitamin C and E may be helpful in reducing the inflammation associated with endometriosis.

Red Meat and Saturated Fat

Again, results were mixed. Saturated fat mainly occurs in animal products. Some studies found a correlation between red meat and endo risk, but no association with butter. In other the results were flipped.

Other items investigated

  • Soy
  • Olive Oil
  • Fish and Omega 3
  • Minimal to no evidence supporting associations between endo and dietary intake for any of these products were found.

 

What’s it All Mean?

One of my patients once told me she was instructed to finish every study, with the phrase, “more research is needed.” This is certainly the case in the field of endometriosis treatment. There’s a lot about endometriosis that we don’t understand We need well constructed studies that will allow researchers to do more powerful meta-analysis to help guide our treatment. This review was only able to include 11 studies for review out of the 256 initially found.

With all that said, I do think there are some key takeaways from this study. There was a general trend in healthier foods and more promising results. Parazinni was also diligent to include mechanisms by which these healthy foods could be helpful. Secondly, there was no harm found by eating what is considered a healthy diet, (high in greens and vitamins). These findings, although small, in combination with the general benefits of a healthy diet, should encourage patients with endo to explore in more depth how eating certain foods affects their symptoms.

At Beyond Basics we take pride in treating our patients from a holistic perspective and we appreciate that we can collaborate with other healthcare providers in our community, including expert nutritionists, naturopaths, functional medicine doctors and mental health therapists. We find that the combination of diet, specific physical therapy techniques, mental health and self-care, can significantly reduce pain and other symptoms and improve function in many patients. Our clinicians specifically are experts in manual therapy techniques such as visceral and connective tissue mobilization techniques, myofascial release and other soft tissue mobilization techniques discussed in the previously mentioned endometriosis blogs. If you are suffering from endometriosis, come visit us today.

Learn more about what we do at BBPT with our upcoming PH101 classes, which are free to the public. Here are some you may find interesting:

April 6th: Does my diet really matter?

April 13th: Pain & Sexuality: Is it all in my head? No, it is not!

April 20th: Ladies Only Session

April 27th: Optimize reproductive health

May 4th: Improve your birthing experience.

All events are at 7pm with light snacks.

Register at: pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com because space is limited!!

See full list of classes below

pelvic-health-101-spring-2017