Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK, and 176 million women worldwide.
There is no agreed upon understanding of the cause of endometriosis, and no effective medically based prevention or cure has yet been developed. I was diagnosed with endometriosis around 10 years ago after about 8 years of issues with my digestion – the assumption that I ‘just had IBS’ kept me from investigating further. I had heavy and painful periods that would leave me unable to stand up for more than 10 minutes at a time on the worst days; pain during penetrative sex at all stages of my cycle; diarrhoea and urgent bowel movements during my period; abdominal cramping before and during my period, doubling me over and leaving me light-headed…and a host of other symptoms that I didn’t even connect the dots on until years afterwards! If any of this sounds familiar to you then read on…
I have tried various things over the years to try and reduce the effect of endometriosis on my body and my life. Initially I took the medical advice and (after vowing years earlier never to return to it) took a hormonal contraceptive pill for three months. The side effects of this were not worth the (minimal) improvement to my pain levels and I gratefully returned to my natural, contraceptive free, hormonal rhythm.
The first major improvements I experienced were through changes in my diet. I’m also going to talk in this blog about how abdominal and genital massage – from trained practitioners and my own hands – have further aided me in maintaining a relatively pain-free relationship with my womb and my menstrual cycle.
Diet and endometriosis...
In 2018 I studied with Ellen Heed, as part of my Sexological Bodywork training. Ellen is an expert on women’s pelvic health and scar tissue remediation. Through her I learned that endometriosis has been linked to problems with liver function (amongst other things). For me, a person who had always struggled with my relationship to alcohol, this was an Aha! moment. If the liver is underperforming (not doing a good job of filtering the blood), the blood becomes agglutinated or thickened, and as a result is more ‘sluggish’ – it doesn’t flow as quickly in your body. When this thickened blood is sitting around in your liver, scar tissue and other kinds of granulation products begin to accumulate in the bile canaliculi (the tiny bile ducts that lead out of the liver and ultimately into the gall bladder). That means bile doesn’t flow out of the liver so easily, and the liver is basically sitting around in it’s own sewage, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle of inflammation and agglutination, and issues such as endometriosis.
If this thickened menstrual blood then travels up and out through the fallopian tubes, through the fibrils of the fallopian tubes, and onto the outside of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, it can implant there – causing what’s known as an endometrioma. This is a section of uterine lining growing elsewhere in the body and continuing to respond to the menstrual cycle each month. So that tissue swells, and it bleeds, just like a woman’s normal cycling inside her uterus. However, instead of the blood flowing out of the Os (the opening of the cervix) and out of the vagina, it is trapped inside of an intra-pelvic space where it can cause enormous pain.
A direct way to reduce the levels of inflammation in your body, helping to reverse the agglutination process and boost liver function, is through diet. My success in drastically reducing the impact of my endometriosis came initially from these vital shifts in diet:
- I stopped eating sugar, processed foods, and any kind of gluten or starch. This greatly reduced the inflammation in my body: you could see this visibly (I lost weight, I looked less ‘puffy’) and I could feel it tangibly and on an interoceptive level.
- To this day I maintain a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrate, I avoid sugar and I’ve now been sober from alcohol for 4 years.
The impact on my menstrual health was phenomenal. When I do ‘cheat’ and eat these things, or when I’ve been through phases in the last 10 years where I’ve experimented and gone back to my carb-heavy diet, the effect is undeniable: the body doesn’t lie! I am not a nutritionist, but I can say from personal experience that choosing not to eat things that cause inflammation and irritation at a cellular level in my body, is a no-brainer!
Massage and endometriosis...
Alongside my ongoing experimenting and finessing of diet, I’m also a massive supporter of massage (obviously!) Research shows that massage helps to reduce the effect of pain on the body from endometriosis, but also shows that REGULAR skilled therapeutic touch further increases the effectiveness of massage as a method for reducing the effects of endometriosis.
Many of my female clients come to sessions with an existing diagnosis and are struggling to manage the pain endometriosis causes, as well as the negative impacts it has on their sex lives. When we work with abdominal and genital massage we are gently, yet effectively, softening scar tissue and breaking down adhesions. Focussed touch and the gentle heat of hands over the front of the pelvis can have an incredible soothing and pain-reducing effect, particularly during your bleed but also at other stages of your cycle. When we work with internal genital massage we are bringing awareness to the delicate tissue in the walls of your vagina; again, the soft touch and gentle warmth act as a pain-reliever whilst also allowing the contraction and spasm in the tissue to release.
I recommend coming for your first session within a week of your period ending. During this post-menstruation part of the follicular phase of your cycle, massage can help stimulate the lymphatic system and ‘flush’ out any ‘stuck’ blood. It’s also a good time to learn and practice self-massage techniques in preparation for your next period.
Perhaps the idea of being touched or receiving internal genital massage from someone else during your bleed feels uncomfortable, unrealistic, or just the last thing you would want! I really understand that. That’s why, in sessions, I also guide you in how you can give this kind of massage and touch to yourself, allowing you to develop tools for prevention and management of symptoms. I also offer couples massage coaching sessions, helping your partner to learn the art of yoni massage which you can incorporate into your intimate lives at home.
If you want more information about endometriosis, this is a good place to begin: www.endometriosis-uk.org. Whilst the medical solutions were not optimal for me, I do recommend speaking to your doctor or GP, and getting a professional diagnosis: endometriosis-like symptoms can also be an indicator of other, more serious issues, so it is sensible to have proper investigations done.
If you are interested in learning more about how my sessions can support you in your journey with endometriosis please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange an intake call or book a session.