Endometriosis is a chronic condition that occurs when endometrial cell tissue — the cells that grow and shed as part of your menstrual cycle — build up in places other than your uterus. When these cells try to exit your body with the rest of your endometrial tissue, they swell and become inflamed. Over time, this tissue can develop into nodules and lesions.
Endometriosis affects as many as 1 in 10 women in the United States. The symptoms vary widely on a case-by-case basis, but leg pain is one of the more common symptoms. In one clinical study, over half of women with endometriosis experienced this symptom.
Keep reading to learn more about why it happens and how to treat it.
Endometriosis 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.
Researchers aren’t quite sure what connects endometriosis to leg pain, but they’re on the way to finding out. A recent lab model study in Wisteria rats with endometria found that the endometrial cells caused nerve inflammation in the areas close to the uterus. The tissue swelling triggered the rats’ nervous system, and it was processed as pain.
It’s also possible that the nerves themselves become trapped in the endometriosis tissue.
When you’re experiencing endometriosis-related leg pain at home, there are number of things you can try to get pain relief.
- Applying a hot water bottle or heating pad directly to the site of your leg pain may help ease your symptoms.
- Laying on your side and resting may also help your triggered nerves relax.
- Taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, like aspirin (Ecotrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), can temporarily dull your leg pain.
- Though it might be the last thing you want to do, practicing yoga or going for a run can stimulate your body’s endorphins, which subdue pain naturally.
- Regular exercise has also been found to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and help your body manage endometriosis over time.
Some specific stretch sequences can target leg pain. These stretches are designed to relax the muscles around your pelvis.
To do this:
- Start this stretch flat on your back with both legs outstretched.
- Breathe in deeply and slowly raise your right leg up.
- Bend your leg in toward your abdomen.
- Hug your leg to your chest, exhale, and release.
- Repeat with the opposite leg.
Flat frog stretch/Reclining butterfly stretch
To do this:
- While lying on your back, bring your feet together so that your legs make a diamond shape.
- With your feet still pressed together, breathe in deeply and drag your feet up toward your buttocks.
- Exhale and try to keep your knees pressed down toward the floor.
- Repeat as needed.
Some women find that eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help relieve endometriosis-related leg pain.
Although researchers have been interested in finding the connection between fish oil consumption, processed foods, caffeine, fruits and vegetables, and red meat as possible triggers for endometriosis, the results are mixed at best.
However, researchers have determined that eating a gluten-free diet can help reduce the risk of endometriosis symptoms.
If you want to try to change your diet to manage your leg pain, focus on cutting back on inflammatory foods.
- red meat
- refined flour products
- corn oil
- foods heavy on preservatives
Emphasize leafy vegetables, olive oil, and fatty fish in your daily choices. Cutting back on dairy and gluten, and swapping out coffee for green tea, may also help reduce inflammation in your body.
Although OTC medications may help ease endometriosis leg pain, the pain may still break through those medications. It’s not common practice to prescribe pain medications for endometriosis, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the question. If OTC pain relievers aren’t taking the edge off of your symptoms, talk to your doctor about your options.
They may be able to prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like:
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
- oxaprozin (Daypro)
- prescription-strength ibuprofen
Other treatment strategies try to decrease the amount of estrogen in your body. For example, triptorelin (Trelstar) has been found to decrease pain, and danocrine (Danazol) can help regulate your hormones to prevent tissue buildup.
If your leg pain is so severe that you’re unable to walk, or if you feel like your legs might give out, lay down and call your doctor immediately. Having endometriosis doesn’t mean that any pain in your legs is caused by that condition, and your doctor will be able to rule out any other underlying causes.
If your leg pain is triggered by your menstrual cycle and occurs consistently every month, you should see your doctor. They may be able to recommend specific therapy strategies and lifestyle changes, or refer you to a physical therapist. Hormonal treatment or other pharmaceutical options are available.
If your pain persists, your doctor might recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove tissue buildup. This may help relieve your symptoms.