Introduction[edit | edit source]


Endometriosis is a chronic gynecologic disease characterized by the development and presence of histological elements like endometrial glands and stroma in anatomical positions and organs outside of the uterine cavity. The main clinical manifestations of the disease are chronic pelvic pain and impaired fertility. The localization of endometriosis lesions can vary, with the most commonly involved focus of the disease the ovaries followed by the posterior broad ligament, the anterior cul-de-sac, the posterior cul-de-sac, and the uterosacral ligament. Endometriotic nodules also affect the intestinal tract and the urinary system like the ureter, the bladder, and the urethra. Nevertheless, endometriosis is not limited to the pelvis but can damage extra pelvic structures like the pleura, the pericardium, or the central nervous system[1].

Epidemiology[edit | edit source]

The exact prevalence cannot be easily defined since the definitive diagnosis of the disease (a laparoscopic examination) needs to be conducted.

  • It is estimated that endometriosis affects approximately 10% to 15% of women of reproductive age, whereas this prevalence increases by up to 70% in women with chronic pelvic pain. 
  • In the U.S., according to a more recent survey of the National Hospital Discharge Survey, 11.2% of all women between 18 and 45 years old hospitalized for genitourinary causes were diagnosed with endometriosis, and approximately 10.3% of the women undergone gynecologic surgeries have endometriosis. 
  • Endometriosis is a disease with a high burden in Europe and the U.S. It has been shown that in Europe, the average annual cost for every patient, including health care and loss of productivity, was approximately €10,000, whereas, in the U.S., the health care cost is 63% higher than the average women [1]
  • There are limited epidemiologic data on the prevalence of endometriosis in sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, a prevalence of 4-8% has been reported among women.[2][3]In South Africa, a prevalence of 2-6% has been reported.[4]
  • This low prevalence among African women have been attributed to: early age at first pregnancy, short inter pregnancy intervals with large size families, taboos around menstruation and pain, increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and blocked fallopian tube[5][6]Some others have further attributed this low prevalence to: low awareness of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, the poor access to diagnostic and therapeutic facilities and the limited training available for the management of endometriosis in the region[7]

Clinical Presentation[edit | edit source]

Flow chart.gif

The peak of the disease incidence is greater in women between 25 and 29 years old and lowest in women over 44 years old, whereas the prevalence in whites is higher than the African-Americans.  

The pain is usually characterized as chronic, cyclic, and progressive (exacerbating over time)[1] 

The clinical presentation of the disease differs in women and may be unexpected not only in the way presenting but also in the duration.

Clinicians usually suspect and are more likely to diagnose the disease in females presenting with the typical symptomatology such as: [1][8][9] 

  • Abdominal pain, fatigue and mood change beginning 1-2 days before menstruation and continuing for the duration
  • Constant/intermittent, or cyclical pelvic and/or low back pain (unilateral or bilateral)
  • Infertility - often first diagnosed in women who are seeking treatment for infertility
  • History of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) - commonly identified as the chief complaint if implants are located over the uterosacral ligaments
  • Dyspareunia (painful intercourse) - local adhesions may be irritated by penile penetration
  • Painful defecation - adhesions may be present over the large bowel. As faecal matter moves through the intestines these adhesions can be stretched causing local irritation. 
  • Low-grade fever
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, rectal bleeding
  • Referred pain to the low back/sacral groin, posterior leg, upper abdomen, or lower abdominal.suprapubic areas
  • Menorrhagia/menometrorrhagia - excessive or occasional heavy periods may be experienced, along with bleeding between periods 

Less Common Signs and Symptoms[10]

  • Chest pain/hemoptysis - due to endometrial implants in the lungs
  • Headache/seizures - due to endometrial implants in the brain

Associated Co-morbidities[edit | edit source]

Medications[edit | edit source]

  1. Anti Inflammatories (NSAIDs)- Over the counter or prescribed NSAIDs work by decreasing the pain and amount of inflammation in the region of disease caused by displaced endometrial tissue or scaring.  NSAIDs also decrease pain associated with menstrual bleeding by blocking the protein prostaglandin.[13]
  2.  Birth Control Hormones- creates hormone levels in the body similar to those during pregnancy.  This may slow or cease the growth of endometrial implants, and stop the shedding and discharge of menstrual fluid which will lead to a decrease in pain.  This treatment may be used in the form of a pill, patch or ring and has been shown to have the least amount of side effects.[13] 
  3. Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone Agonist  (GnRH-a)- This form of hormone treatment lowers estrogen levels in the body producing a state which mimics menopause.  Typically this form of treatment is utilized in more severe cases where the pain is not relieved by birth control hormones and NSAIDs.  GnRH-a works by stopping the growth-shrinking implants which in turn reduces pain.[13]
  4. Progestin (pill or shot) - This form of hormone therapy works to create levels of progestin in the body similar to pregnancy.  By mimicking the hormonal characteristics of pregnancy ovulation ceases and estrogen levels lower which causes shrinkage of endometrial growths and reduced pain.[13]
  5. Danazol - Increases androgen levels and decreases estrogen levels to create a menopause-like state.  Similar to previous hormone therapy, this shrinks and stops the growth of endometrial implants which typically reduces pain.  Treatment effects last approximately 6-12 weeks and may produce adverse signs/symptoms.[13]
  6. Aromatase Inhibitors - May provide relief in women who have not had improvements with hormone therapy.  Aromatase works by inhibiting the amount of estrogen the tissue can produce.  Studies have shown that aromatase inhibitors are effective at reducing pain and preventing the return endometrial growths.  This form of treatment is often used in conjunction with hormone therapy such as birth control pills or progestin.[13]

Diagnostic Tests/Lab Tests/Lab Values[edit | edit source]

The following are common tests used to identify physical clues leading to the diagnosis of endometriosis: 

  • Laparoscopy: Accurate diagnosis of endometriosis requires direct visualization of endometrial tissue through laparoscopic procedures.[8]  This is accomplished by distending the abdomen through the injection of carbon dioxide for adequate visualization of the reproductive organs.  An instrument with a camera (laparoscope) is inserted through a tiny incision near the navel in order to determine if reproductive and abdominal organs possess endometrial implants.  Laparoscopy is a valuable tool guiding the course of treatment for endometriosis by identifying the severity, size and location of foreign implants.[9]     
  • Pelvic Exam: Manual palpation of the pelvic region to identify abnormalities such as cysts or scar tissue surrounding reproductive organs. Although this exam may reproduce pain in large areas of implantation, it is often not possible to feel small areas, making this test less reliable at identifying the presence of endometriosis.[9]
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasounds work by using sound waves from a transducer wand to create a video image of organs. Vaginal ultrasounds are performed by inserting a wand into the vagina to view images of the reproductive organs, while abdominal ultrasounds are done by moving a wand over the abdominal-pelvic region. Ultrasound is done in order to identify the presence of cysts associated with endometriosis, but it is important to note that this is not a definitive test used to diagnose endometriosis.[9]
  • MRI: An MRI is used to view endometrial implants but proves to be more sensitive in comparison to the use of ultrasound.[8] 
  • Blood Labs: Cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) is a blood test that has been used to detect common proteins found in those with endometriosis.  This is the same test that is used to tumour markers for various types of cancer.  Although this blood test may identify proteins in advanced cases of endometriosis, it is not sensitive to the detection of mild or moderates disease.  Due to the fact that this test is not sensitive to early disease detection, it is not recommended as a screening test for endometriosis.[9]

Causes[edit | edit source]

The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, yet several theories have been developed that explain the existence of displaced endometrial tissue. 

  1. The most common theory suggests that menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flow into the pelvic cavity via the fallopian tubes through a process known as retrograde menstruation.[9]  This form of endometrial migration has been shown to occur in 90% of women affected by endometriosis.[8]
  2. Another common theory strongly suggests that the presence of foreign endometrial tissue may be due to a faulty immune system.[9]  Dysregulation or dysfunction of the immune system allows endometrial cells to spread, and thrive in areas they do not belong.[8]
  3. The spread of endometrial tissue via the lymphatics or vascular system.  This form of aetiology could account for the presence of endometrial tissue in the lungs
  4. Meyer's theory suggests that endometrial cells transform from one type of cell to another through metaplasia which explains the presence of displaced tissue in the joints[8]
  5. Some believe in the existence of "pre" endometrial cells which were responsible for the formation of embryonic reproductive organs.  Researchers theorize that genetic or environmental factors allow for the formation of foreign endometrial tissue later in life
  6. Speculation of intraoperative implantation of endometrial tissue due to a hysterectomy or episiotomy has been noted.[8]

Associated Risk Factors[edit | edit source]

The following factors may place you at greater risk for developing endometriosis:[9][14][12]

  • Early-onset of menstruation
  • Never giving birth or postponed pregnancy
  • Family history of endometriosis
  • Frequent menstrual cycles with a duration greater than eight days
  • Medical conditions which block the flow of menstruation (such as a closed hymen)
  • Low body mass index (BMI)
  • Sedentary lifestyle 

Differential Diagnosis[edit | edit source]

The most common symptoms of endometriosis are infertility and chronic cyclic pelvic pain; therefore, other conditions should be ruled out from the differential diagnosis. Chronic pelvic pain is a usual symptom derived from pathologic conditions of the urologic, reproductive, and gastrointestinal system. Pelvic inflammatory disease, adhesions, endometritis, primary dysmenorrhea, and second dysmenorrhea due to adenomyosis, myoma, cervical stenosis should be excluded from the pathologies of the genital system.[33] Other diseases that should be excluded come from the gastrointestinal system like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, and the urinary system, such as interstitial cystitis or chronic urinary inflammation.

Medical Management[edit | edit source]

Endometriosis is a non-curable disease.[8] The objectives of medical treatment focus on restoring normal pelvic anatomy, removal of endometriotic implants, and prevention of reoccurrence to decrease pain and increase fertility. In order to achieve these goals, the course of medical management depends heavily on the severity of symptoms, severity of disease, age and future child bearing plans.[14]  Generally, conservative treatment is recommended to control symptoms prior to surgical management.[9]

Treatment Options[edit | edit source]

  • Medications to control pain - (refer to medication section)
  • Hormone Therapy - (refer to the medication section)
  • Surgical management - less common approach due to unchanged aetiology and rapid implant regrowth.[8] 
  • Non-traditional management - (refer to alternate/holistic management)

The main aspect of medical management is aimed at reducing or blocking ovarian function due to the fact that endometriosis is related to hormone function.[10]  Common medical treatments and their functions are listed in the medication section.  In the instance that symptoms are severe and disabling, or conservative medical treatment fails, surgical procedures can be useful in removing/destroying implants and decreasing or ceasing symptoms.  It is important to note that implant regrowth may occur following removal and may only be a temporary source of symptom relief.[10]

Surgical Management[edit | edit source]

The major advantage of surgical treatment compared to pharmaceutical options is the ability to enhance fertility capability, but it can also provide pain relief simultaneously.

  • Surgery should be considered in cases of superficial endometriosis unresponsive or with contradictions to medical treatment. 
  • When laparoscopic surgery is performed, then the recommendation is to excise all the endometriotic lesions and adhesions. By the ablation of the endometriotic tissue, the local inflammatory milieu decreases in the pelvic cavity, thus increasing the chances for conception. 
  • The management of ovarian endometriomas is still challenging and poses a dilemma to clinicians. The reason behind this is the cumulative research evidence which shows that the removal of the capsule of the cyst can result in a decrease of the ovarian reserve and follicular loss. However, cystectomy is preferable compared to cyst drainage or ablation, due to its greater effectiveness in pain relief and to the lower recurrence rate. 
  • The final decision about which treatment approach should be followed should be taken collaboratively with the patient, after a detailed explanation of all the possible risks and benefits related to each treatment option[1].

Physical Therapy Management[edit | edit source]

Preferred Practice Patterns[edit | edit source]

  • Impaired Muscle Performance
  • Impaired Joint Mobility, Motor Function, Muscle Performance, and Range of Motion Associated With Connective Tissue Dysfunction

Due to the fact that endometriosis is a common disease in women, physical therapists may encounter this as a primary diagnosis, co-morbidity, or possibly undiagnosed.  It is important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms endometriosis presents with, especially those which mask as musculoskeletal.[8]

The decision to treat patients diagnosed with endometriosis is based on the presentation of musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal symptoms.[12]  Patients with endometriosis may experience pain in the region of the pelvis, abdomen and low back.  Secondary musculoskeletal impairments may occur in the region of endometrial implantation.  For instance, endometrial implants on the psoas or lumbar musculature may reproduce musculoskeletal symptoms during the examination.[8] 

Secondary Musculoskeletal Impairments Caused by Endometriosis [12][edit | edit source]

  • Lumbar, sacroiliac, and pelvic floor pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Trigger points (common in the pelvic floor and lumbar spine)
  • Connective tissue dysfunction
  • Urinary urgency
  • Scar tissue adhesion

Physical therapy may prove to be an integral treatment option for the patient with endometriosis presenting with musculoskeletal impairments.  By addressing this disease using a multidisciplinary approach, decreased pain and increased functional capabilities may be provided, allowing for a greater quality of life.  

Effective Physical Therapy Treatment Options[12][edit | edit source]

  • Modalities
  • Pelvic floor strengthening
  • Internal and external trigger point management
  • Myofascial manual therapy
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises
  • Spinal mobilizations
  • Nerve glides
  • Relaxation exercises

A study entitled Treating Fallopian Tube Occlusion with a Manual Pelvic Physical Therapy was performed in 2008 by Wurn, BF. et al.  This study described the efficacy of a non-invasive soft tissue physical therapy treatment in opening bilateral occluded fallopian tubes in infertile women with a history of abdominal-pelvic adhesions.[15]  Through this study it was discovered that non-invasive therapy such as manual techniques may be useful as an adjunct therapy in treating tubal occlusion caused by adhesions.[15] 

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Tsamantioti ES, Mahdy H. Endometriosis. [Updated 2021 Feb 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.Available from: https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/21107(accessed 5.4.2021)
  2. Strathy JH, Molgaard CA, Coulam CB, Melton III LJ. Endometriosis and infertility: a laparoscopic study of endometriosis among fertile and infertile women. Fertility and sterility. 1985 Aug 1;44(2):83-8.
  3. Otolorin EO, Ojengbede O, Falase AO. Laparoscopic evaluation of the tuboperitoneal factor in infertile Nigerian women. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 1987 Feb;25(1):47-52.
  4. Wiswedel K, Allen DA. Infertility factors at the Groote Schuur hospital fertility clinic. South African Medical Journal. 1989;76(1):65-6.
  5. Kyama CM, Mwenda JM, Machoki J, Mihalyi A, Simsa P, Chai DC, D'Hooghe TM. Endometriosis in African women. Women’s Health. 2007 Sep;3(5):629-35.
  6. D'Hooghe TM. Special focus: the challenge of endometriosis. Women’s Health. 2007 Sep;3(5):615-.
  7. Signorello LB, Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Spiegelman D, Hill JA. Epidemiologic determinants of endometriosis: a hospital-based case-control study. Annals of epidemiology. 1997 May 1;7(4):267-74.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 Goodman C., Fuller K. Pathology: Implications for the Physical Therapist. St. Louis, Missouri: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 Endometriosis. MayoClinic.com. Sept. 11, 2008. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/endometriosis/DS00289. Accessed : February 17, 2010.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Edwards, M. Understanding Endometriosis. Practice Nurse. December 2009; 38, 10: Proquest Nursing and Allied Health Source. pgs 22-25. Accessed: February 17, 2010.
  11. Goodman and Snyder. Differential Diagnoses in Physical Therapy. Saunders (W.B.) Co Ltd; 3rd Revised edition edition (28 Jan 2000)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Troyer MR. Differential diagnosis of endometriosis in a yound adult woman with nonspecific low back pain. Physical Therapy. 2007;87:801-810.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Endometriosis Health Center. WebMD. July 28, 2009. Available at: http://women.webmd.com/endometriosis/endometriosis-medications. Accessed March 7, 2010.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Endometriosis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. January 2010. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000915.htm. Accessed: February 17, 2010.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wurn, Belinda F; Wurn, Lawrence J; King, Richard C; Heuer, Marvin A; Roscow, Amanda S; Hornberger, Kimberly; Scharf, Eugenia S. Treating Fallopian Tube Occlusion with a Manual Pelvic Physical Therapy. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine: Jan/Feb 2008; 14, 1: pg 18.