Endometriosis symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and excessive bleeding can make regular physical activity a challenge, but finding ways to stay active is important. Exercise offers a range of physical and mental health benefits, including some that may help you manage endometriosis symptoms.
Members of MyEndometriosisTeam have discussed the conflicting feelings they have about exercise. Many of them acknowledge the potential benefits but comment on how their endometriosis symptoms are too severe for regular exercise.
“I find that exercise helps, but I don’t always feel up to doing it,” commented one member. Another said, “I find the only exercise I can tolerate is walking or yoga. Anything beyond that I always pay for the next day with worse pain than usual.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to exercising with endometriosis, but certain activities may be more helpful than others. Here’s what to know.
Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition in which the endometrial tissue that usually lines the uterus is found outside of the uterus. This tissue and resulting adhesions (bands of scar tissue between organs) cause symptoms such as inflammation, pain, bloating, and cramping. Exercise may have protective effects against inflammation similar to that involved in endometriosis, and it’s been found to offer several benefits.
Although pain is a major barrier to exercise for some people with endometriosis, research has shown physical activity may help reduce pelvic pain. Exercise and repetitive body movements release endorphins, which produce an analgesic (pain-relieving) and mood-elevating effect. Physical activity also has anti-inflammatory effects that help to reduce pain.
One study found that people with mild or moderate endometriosis who participated in a low-intensity exercise program three times a week for eight weeks experienced decreased pain intensity. Research on women with fibromyalgia (a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and that’s more prevalent in people with endometriosis) found similar results.
One member said, “Exercise helps decrease pain for me. I have to combine cardio and weights. It’s hard to do it when I’m in pain, but I feel better afterward.”
However, some members of MyEndometriosisTeam have mixed feelings about exercise for pain relief. Other members have made comments like, “I get tremendous leg and psoas (a muscle under the spine) pain when I exercise. I can’t even walk three blocks without a flare-up.”
Not all research supports the idea that exercise can influence pain, either. A recent systematic review of research on the effects of exercise on pain in people with endometriosis did not find a definitive, positive effect. The authors concluded that more rigorous research is necessary to support recommendations for exercise as pain therapy.
Exercise can help to reduce estrogen levels. Endometriosis is characterized by higher-than-normal estrogen levels, and we know that estrogen causes endometriosis to grow. Reducing levels of estrogen through exercise may help address symptoms.
Light exercise and stretching may help increase flexibility, relax muscles, and reduce pain. With endometriosis, relaxing muscles in the pelvic floor area and other areas of pain may help to reduce pain from endometrial implants and adhesions.
One MyEndometriosisTeam member commented, “Pain is there but way more bearable. Stretching is helping.” Another member wrote, “I always get hip pain to the point it’s impossible to walk. Using heating pads, Advil, and stretching usually helps!”
Living with chronic pain from endometriosis (or any other condition that causes chronic pain) can become taxing on a person’s mental and emotional health. People with endometriosis are twice as likely to experience mental health conditions like depression compared to their peers and are more likely to have feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts.
Exercise can help to improve mood and mental health. Exercise helps improve mood in the short term through the release of endorphins. In the long term, exercise can help increase mindfulness and reduce stress.
“Some days, physical activity would be impossible, but on days when I just felt generally groggy, I found that it could help my pain and definitely help my mood,” a member said.
Certain types of exercise, like high-intensity programs or activities that target the lower back, abdomen, or pelvis, may increase pain or cause flares. Instead of these choices, you may find that yoga and other low-intensity exercises are good options. Always consult with your doctor or a physical therapist before starting any new physical activity routine, even those that seem gentle.
Yoga is a good, low-impact option for physical activity with endometriosis. Several research studies have examined the effects of yoga on people with endometriosis and found benefits.
For instance, one study found that after 90 minutes of yoga twice a week for eight weeks, participants had a better quality of life and lower levels of chronic pain. Similarly, another study found that women with chronic pelvic pain had reduced levels of pain and improved quality of life after an eight-week yoga therapy program compared to women who only took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat their pain.
Members have touted the benefits of yoga, too. “Having a good day. Just did my daily yoga to relieve stress from my body. Yoga has saved my life,” said one member.
Low-intensity exercise consists of activity in which you aim for a sustained heart rate throughout the session. Low-intensity exercise includes activities like walking, light jogging, swimming or rowing at a slow pace, or pilates.
“Swimming is not too bad. I try to swim when I can ... Less strenuous on the body,” wrote a member. “Water aerobics can be good, too,” said another.
For any type of exercise, you will likely get the most benefit from it if you enjoy it.
As one member put it, “My biggest advice when it comes to exercising is to find whatever movement makes you happy. If you don’t love it, you will never make it a habit. If you were to ask me to go for a run every day, it would NEVER happen. It may take a little trial and error to find what works for you. It did for me.”
MyEndometriosisTeam members and health care professionals advise starting slowly with any new workout routine. Pushing too hard at a new exercise may lead to injury or even increased endometriosis pain.
“Start slowly with yoga, walking, or water stuff,” suggested a member. “When I work out and eat healthily I feel a lot better,” they added.
MyEndometriosisTeam is the social network for people with endometriosis. On MyEndometriosisTeam, more than 121,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with endometriosis.
How do you stay active with endometriosis? Share your tips in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.