Physical Therapy Before Excision Surgery for Endometriosis
Endometriosis can cause multiple issues for patients. And it can create the need for a multidisciplinary care team to address chronic pelvic pain. Physical therapy is one example of part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan for endometriosis symptoms. Guest writer Rebecca Patton, PT, DPT, discusses considerations for using physical therapy while awaiting excision surgery:
Pelvic physical therapy has gained more following and prompted much-needed discussions in recent years. However, pelvic physical therapy looks quite different for someone with chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis.
The reality is that pelvic physical therapists may be the first line of defense to refer a patient to a specialist. First, because we have direct access, meaning a patient can see us for an evaluation before seeing a physician. Second, because symptoms of endometriosis are often missed or dismissed by referring providers. In the latter case, someone may be referred to physical therapy before excision surgery or even before seeing an endo specialist.
Physical therapists can optimize care by helping a patient get to a specialist while providing physical therapy treatment.
If we are seeking to provide the best care available for the treatment of endo, getting a faster diagnosis and referring a patient to an excision specialist is the primary goal. With a thorough medical history including bowel and bladder habits, menstrual symptoms, pelvic pain symptoms, previous treatment, and understanding the patient’s experience, a pelvic physical therapist can create a differential diagnosis list that may include endometriosis. If endometriosis is suspected, a referral to an excision specialist should be given to the patient and explained.
Endo specialists’ wait times vary greatly depending on where you are located.
In my personal experience in Phoenix, AZ, a large metropolitan area with several specialists, it takes anywhere from 3-12 months. More time if we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Decreased access in rural areas may also increase waiting times. One positive change is the inclusion of virtual appointments which may improve access for those in rural areas.
During the waiting period, the goal is to manage pain and maintain some regularity with bowel and bladder habits until excision surgery. Internal pelvic floor retraining may or may not be appropriate during this time.
As mentioned before, physical therapy before excision surgery is going to look different from treatments for other conditions. As a patient, you want to ensure the physical therapist you are seeing treats patients with endo regularly. You may want to consult with them prior about how often they treat patients with endo and what treatments they use specifically. Additional coursework for visceral and abdominal manual therapy techniques, nerve mobilization, and myofascial therapy techniques will be helpful.
Most studies research the effectiveness of physical therapy following excision surgery. What about physical therapy before excision surgery?
Zhao et al. (1) found that 12 weeks of PMR (progressive muscle relaxation) training is effective in improving anxiety, depression, and quality of life of endometriosis patients under GnRH agonist therapy. These participants had not received excision surgery.
Awad et al. (2) found improvements in posture and pain with an 8-week regular exercise program in those diagnosed with mild to moderate endometriosis. This exercise program included posture awareness, diaphragm breathing, muscle relaxation techniques, lower back and hip stretches, and walking. Of note, this exercise program was not vigorous exercise. These participants were also receiving hormonal treatment but not receiving pain medication.
Both studies did not say that physical exercise or PMR plays a role in the prevention of the occurrence or progression of endometriosis. Both studies were short-term (8-12 weeks) and did not explore pain management directly before excision or outcomes after excision.
In the time that a patient is waiting for excision surgery, I believe physical therapy treatment can be effective at minimizing overall pain levels and improving quality of life.
A few factors to keep in mind if you are seeking pelvic physical therapy before excision surgery:
1. Your symptoms after physical therapy should not last more than 1-2 days and should feel manageable. Being bedridden for a week after physical therapy is not a helpful treatment. If you experience this, be sure to communicate it with your physical therapist to adjust the plan. Not all pelvic PTs are experienced with this type of treatment and they may create an exercise plan that is too vigorous.
2. Internal pelvic floor treatment is not always the most helpful in this situation and may exacerbate symptoms. An individualized plan is important to discuss with your provider.
3. You are in charge of your body. If you don’t feel like treatment is working then communicate that to your team and discuss other options. It is always okay to voice your concerns to change the treatment to fit you best.
4. Treatment before surgery requires a multidisciplinary team. This may include other pain management options including medication.
iCareBetter is doing the groundwork to vet pelvic physical therapists.
For more resources on physical therapy for endometriosis see: https://nancysnookendo.com/learning-library/treatment/lessons/physical-therapy-resources/
Zhao L, Wu H, Zhou X, et al.: Effects of progressive muscular relaxation training on anxiety, depression and quality of life of endometriosis patients under gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonist therapy. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol, 2012, 162: 211–215. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
Awad E, Ahmed HAH, Yousef A, Abbas R. Efficacy of exercise on pelvic pain and posture associated with endometriosis: within subject design. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(12):2112-2115. doi:10.1589/jpts.29.2112 [NCBI]