Does Endometriosis Cause Leg Pain?

If you're familiar with endometriosis, you might think of heavy periods and fertility challenges. But there are plenty of lesser-known symptoms, like lower back pain, chronic fatigue, and painful bowel movements (via WebMD). Another overlooked symptom that can affect some people with endometriosis is leg pain.

In endometriosis, tissue that's similar to the lining of the uterus actually grows outside of the uterus, like on the ovaries or pelvic cavity. This tissue responds to hormones just as the uterine lining does, so it breaks down and causes bleeding like a normal period. Since it's outside of the uterus, the shedding tissue has nowhere to go, which causes surrounding areas to become swollen and inflamed. This can cause pain and discomfort. Symptoms of endometriosis include severe menstrual cramps, heavy periods, painful intercourse, diarrhea or constipation, and trouble getting pregnant.

Experts don't totally know what causes endometriosis, but some think it could be due to "retrograde menstruation," in which menstrual blood flows backward into the pelvic cavity, carrying endometrial cells that stick to other organs. There could be a genetic link, as you're more likely to get it if you have a mother or sister that has it. Some also believe that there's a link between endometriosis and immune system disorders, though this hasn't been proven.

What about leg pain?

When endometrial tissue sheds during a monthly period and has nowhere to go, the buildup can put pressure on the nerves in the pelvis, such as the sciatic nerve, according to Medical News Today. This can lead to pain, numbness, and tingling throughout the hips, buttocks, outside of the legs, backs of thighs and calves, knees, and even the feet. The pain is usually felt during a period when the tissue is shedding, but in severe cases, it can be felt constantly. 

A 2016 study found that as many as half of those with endometriosis experience leg pain. Leg pain from endometriosis can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen (via WebMD). Birth control pills are often prescribed to manage symptoms of endometriosis, like nerve pain. Acupuncture can also help with pain. Your doctor may also recommend laparoscopic surgery, which is used to remove endometrial tissue and relieve pressure on the nerves. If you choose this option, be sure to find a surgeon with experience treating nerve pain from endometriosis.