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Endometriosis — it sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but it’s actually a chronic condition in which tissue that normally grows inside your uterus (and is shed during your menstrual cycle) instead grows outside of it.
During menstruation, the uterine tissue becomes inflamed and puts pressure on your nerves. Not so cuterus, amirite?
Estimates vary, but some research suggests endometriosis affects as many as 11 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age.
Endometriosis comes with a variety of not-so-fun symptoms. One of the most common is leg pain. According to a 2016 study, 50 percent of women with endometriosis experience leg pain as a result of their condition.
The intensity is different for everyone. It can make walking difficult for some people, and for others, lower-body movement may be nearly impossible.
Leg pain may get worse with age and — because menstrual cycles are already so much fun — may get worse right before your period starts.
Each month, your uterus so gracefully sheds its tissue via your vagina, whether it grows on the inside or outside.
Tissue on the outside of your uterus can’t locate the nearest exit — your vagina — so instead it becomes trapped and inflamed, putting pressure on the pelvic nerves surrounding it and causing discomfort and pain.
Sometimes this pressure is applied to your sciatic nerve, causing tingly pain or numbness in your legs, hips, or butt.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It runs from your lower back through your hips and legs, all the way down to your feet. When pressure is applied to your sciatic nerve, it can cause all sorts of pain and discomfort in the lower half of your body.
Fortunately, there are many ways to ease endometriosis-related leg pain.
Here are a few at-home remedies to try:
Heat it up
Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to your leg(s) and uterine area.
Raid your medicine cabinet
You likely already have ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen on hand. Taking one of these over-the-counter (OTC) meds will help dull the pain.
Move it, move it
As the great Elle Woods once said, “Endorphins make you happy!” Gentle exercise stimulates endorphins in your body and helps manage pain.
Try some yoga, gentle stretches, jogging, swimming, or simply going for a walk. Your legs will thank you in the long run (pun intended).
Hydrate like it’s your job
If you aren’t drinking enough water, you’re putting your body at risk of dehydration, which increases inflammation and pain. So grab that reusable bottle, fill ’er up, and gulp it down!
Stretching is a great way to relax your muscles and target pain in your body. You don’t have to be a master yogi to master these simple stretches to relax your pelvic muscles:
Flat frog stretch
- Start in tabletop position.
- Walk your knees out to the sides.
- Make a right angle with ankles and turn toes outward.
- Push your weight back into hips, keeping hands on the floor for balance.
- Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.
- Lie on your back, legs straight out in front of you.
- Take a deep breath while slowly lifting one leg up toward chest.
- Exhale and lower your leg back down.
- Repeat with your other leg.
Sitting pigeon stretch
- Sit with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Bend right leg, placing right ankle on top of left knee.
- Lean forward, allowing upper body to extend toward thigh.
- Hold for 15–30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in your lower back and butt.
- Repeat on the other side.
An anti-inflammatory diet may help relieve some symptoms of endometriosis, including leg pain.
Anti-inflammatory foods to fill up on include:
- fruits, especially berries
- fatty fish, like salmon and sardines
- nuts, like almonds and walnuts
- healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado
- green tea
Try to steer clear of foods that increase inflammation, like red meat, refined sugars, caffeine, and gluten.
Talk to your doctor about adding a natural, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory supplement to your diet. Some beneficial supplements you can buy online include:
OTC meds like ibuprofen and aspirin can help only so much, and sometimes leg pain calls for something stronger. In those instances, your doctor may write you a prescription for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Common NSAIDs used to treat endometriosis pain include:
- oxaprozin (like Daypro)
- prescription-strength ibuprofen
- celecoxib (like Celebrex)
Hormone therapy may be another option to ease your endometriosis pain. Your doctor may also suggest using a birth control pill, patch, or intrauterine device (IUD). (If you’re trying to get pregnant, this is not the route for you.)
Lowering the estrogen level in your body may be another way to ease endometriosis pain. A 2014 study found that prescription drugs containing triptorelin (like Trelstar) help reduce pain, and other drugs may prevent tissue buildup by regulating estrogen levels.
Leg pain isn’t the only unpleasant symptom of endometriosis. Because endometrial tissue can grow on different parts of the pelvic area, endo warriors may battle a variety of other common side effects.
- heavy, very painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
- random fatigue
- cramps and pain in the pelvic, abdominal, and lower back regions
- yeast infections
- constipation or diarrhea
- pain during or after sex (dyspareunia)
- nausea and vomiting
- bloody stool or urine
The most serious complication of endometriosis is infertility due to the internal scarring caused by endometrial tissue buildup. If you have endometriosis and are trying to get pregnant, know that you aren’t alone.
According to a 2010 study, 30 to 50 percent of women with endometriosis have trouble conceiving. Talk to your doctor about your fertility options — having endometriosis doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant.
Other complications may vary depending on the location and density of tissue growth.
These may include:
- difficulty walking
- trouble sitting for long stretches of time
- muscle loss, specifically in your butt, thighs, or calves
- problems sleeping
- changes in or loss of sensation in your legs or feet
- restless legs syndrome (RLS)
If you’re having trouble walking or your legs feel weak and unstable, you should call a doctor. Endometriosis isn’t the only reason you could be experiencing leg pain, and a doctor will want to rule out any other possibilities.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor if your leg pain gets worse during your period.
They can work with you to decide the best pain management strategy for you, which could include diet or lifestyle changes, prescription medications, hormonal treatments, or different types of physical therapy.
They may also recommend laparoscopic surgery. This minimally invasive procedure allows a doctor to remove tissue buildup, which can help relieve symptoms.
Untreated growths can lead to serious consequences, so contact your doctor if anything seems off or if you have severe pain or new or unusual symptoms.