There are no specific exercises in the literature that are known to help endometriosis symptoms and similarly, there is minimal scientific literature evidence that exercise changes pain symptoms. Having said that, we know that exercise is good for mood and a reduction in stress and feelings of mental and physical wellbeing, which is really important in endometriosis because it can be such a debilitating condition.
Although running is not specifically known to be ‘good’ for treating the symptoms of endometriosis specifically, we know that it can very much help people with their physical and mental health, not least because it can be easy to fit into your day, can get you outside into natural spaces, and can be a chance to meet people who also love running with whom you can build relationships and share problems. These simple things should not be diminished in value. Humans are better together (especially when running!).
We also know that it can be beneficial to some degree because it reduces the inflammatory levels in the body by increasing cardiovascular exercises. However we recommend running during the weeks around your period. During your period we recommend focusing on exercises that allow the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to relax as it reduces bloating and pain, so yoga and low impact exercise can be helpful for this time in our cycle, and around ovulation, as often this is when symptoms flare up.
Please note that if your symptoms are in a state of high irritability it is best to consult your physiotherapist or consultant first in terms of how to best manage these symptoms through nutrition, physiotherapy, soft tissue therapy and pain medication.
Women struggling with symptoms of endometriosis should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and learn what works for them. There is no prescribed programme specifically for endometriosis, however, as endometriosis in a predominantly pelvic pain problem (sometimes also back and hip), it is certainly worth focusing on strength and control around the torso and lumbopelvic region (trunk, back, pelvis and hips). This will make you a stronger running regardless of other symptoms and makes sense even if the written scientific evidence is currently lacking.
We don’t have evidence of exercise being effective, unfortunately. The studies available thus far are not of high enough quality to draw any conclusions. I think all we can say is that exercise is really important for health and well-being and as above, that effect should not be diminished. Being fit and strong can help women face other health issues with more resilience and can empower women to be more mindful of the strength of their own bodies, which allows them to feel like they are in more control and have greater self-efficacy.
Endometriosis for the most part should not preclude women from exercising but there will be times when symptoms limit their ability or desire to be active. Because women with endometriosis have such a wide variety of symptoms, exercise may often need to be tailored from person to person but also from day to day or week to week for that particular person. For this reason, it can sometimes be helpful to seek assistance from a women’s health sports clinic for support and guidance, not least because it may be that you can do more than you think and sometimes it only takes some encouragement and empowerment to help women to be more active and make positive changes that can help them deal with their symptoms.
The last thing to say is that we need more research in this area; exercise is a powerful tool for good and given that endometriosis can be challenging to treat, the more tools we have to help women with their symptoms the better.