Endometriosis can cause pain in many places throughout the body. For some people with endometriosis, pain or cramps can occur in the legs.

Endometriosis is a chronic condition that occurs when endometrial-like cells — the cells that grow and shed as part of your menstrual cycle — build up in places other than your uterus.

According to the Office of Women’s Health, endometriosis affects more than 11% of women ages 15 to 44 in the United States. The symptoms vary widely depending on the person, but leg pain is one of the more common symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about why it happens and how to treat it.

Endometriosis-related leg pain feels different than the usual muscle cramping or soreness. You might feel a radiating and warm pain that spreads out over one or both legs.

This pain may worsen before your menstrual period starts, and the pain may become more severe as you age.

Endometriosis causes pain when tissues that are similar to those that line the uterus grow outside of the uterus. These growths are benign, but they can still cause a variety of problems as well as pain.

Growths due to endometriosis can bleed and swell. But unlike the lining of the uterus, which is shed and exits the body through the vagina during a menstrual period, endometriosis growths are in areas where they cannot exit the body easily. This can cause pain.

Sometimes endometriosis growths can expand, which can cause a variety of issues. These include:

  • inflammation and swelling
  • blockage of the fallopian tubes
  • trapped blood in the ovaries, which can cause cysts
  • bladder or intestinal problems
  • adhesion or scar tissue development

People with endometriosis may experience different forms of pain in many places around the body.

Researchers aren’t quite sure what connects endometriosis to leg pain, but they’re continuing to conduct research to determine the link.

A lab model study in rats with endometriosis found that the endometrial-like cells caused nerve inflammation in the areas close to the uterus. The tissue swelling triggered the rats’ nervous systems, which processed the inflammation as pain.

It’s also possible that the nerves themselves become trapped in the endometrial-like tissue.

Leg pain due to endometriosis may also occur due to endometriosis of the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the largest in the human body, stretching from the lower back, down the legs, and to the heel of the foot.

Studies have found that though rare, endometriotic lesions or growths on the sciatic nerve can cause pain in the lower body, hips, and legs.

When you’re experiencing endometriosis-related leg pain at home, there are some things you can try to get pain relief.

Quick tips

  • Apply a hot water bottle or heating pad directly to the site of your leg pain to help ease your symptoms.
  • Lie on your side and rest. This may also help your triggered nerves relax.
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to dull your leg pain temporarily.
  • Though it might seem counterproductive, consider practicing yoga or going for a run to stimulate your body’s endorphins, which ease pain naturally.
  • If possible, get moving. Regular exercise has also been found to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and help your body manage endometriosis over time.
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Stretch out your leg muscles

Some specific stretch sequences can target leg pain. These stretches are designed to relax the muscles around your pelvis.

Leg-to-Chest stretch

To do this:

  1. Start this stretch flat on your back with both legs outstretched.
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly raise your right leg up.
  3. Bend your leg in toward your abdomen.
  4. Hug your leg to your chest, exhale, and release.
  5. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Flat Frog stretch/Reclining Butterfly stretch

To do this:

  1. While lying on your back, bring your feet together so that your legs make a diamond shape.
  2. With your feet still pressed together, breathe in deeply and drag your feet up toward your buttocks.
  3. Exhale and try to keep your knees pressed down toward the floor.
  4. Repeat as needed.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Much research has been focused on possible triggers for endometriosis, but the results are mixed.

However, research suggests that eating a gluten-free diet may help reduce some endometriosis symptoms. Also, some people find that eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help relieve endometriosis-related leg pain.

If you want to try to change your diet to help manage your leg pain, focus on limiting inflammatory foods. This includes:

  • red meat
  • butter
  • refined flour products
  • corn oil
  • sugar
  • foods heavy on preservatives

Emphasize leafy vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish in your daily choices. Limiting dairy and gluten and swapping out coffee for green tea may also help reduce inflammation in your body.

Take medication as needed

Although OTC medications may help ease endometriosis-related leg pain, they may not resolve it entirely.

It’s not typical to take prescription pain relievers for endometriosis, but that does not mean they’re out of the question. If OTC pain relievers are not relieving your symptoms, talk with your doctor about your options.

They may be able to prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like:

  • celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • oxaprozin (Daypro)
  • prescription-strength ibuprofen

If you’re not trying to get pregnant, talk with your doctor about hormone therapy. They may recommend birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) to help ease your endometriosis pain.

Other medications include:

  • leuprolide (Lupron)
  • GnRH agonists/antagonists
  • elagolix (Orilissa)
  • danazol (Danocrine)

If your leg pain is so severe that you’re unable to walk, or if you feel like your legs might give out, lie down and call your doctor immediately.

Having endometriosis does not mean that the condition causes any pain experienced in your legs. Your doctor will be able to rule out any other underlying causes.

If your menstrual cycle triggers leg pain, and it occurs consistently every month, you should see a doctor. They may be able to recommend specific therapy strategies and lifestyle changes. They can also refer you to a physical therapist, or prescribe hormonal treatment or other medication options.

If your pain persists, your doctor might recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove tissue buildup to help relieve your symptoms.