In allopathic medicine, structural problems that may lead to infertility include uterine fibroids, polyps, scarring (from previous injuries or surgeries) or an unusually shaped uterus. As an osteopathic manual practitioner, I consider all the structures of your body and how they impact your reproductive health.
Structure Governs Function
How can your physical structure affect your fertility? Everything in your body needs to be in the right place and moving properly for optimal health. Position and mobility of your bony framework (including your skull, spine, and pelvis) and your internal organs affect the function of other body’s systems – neurological, circulatory, hormonal and more.
Both the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ and the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’, or in this case ‘feed and breed’, divisions of the autonomic nervous system affect reproductive function. The sympathetic nerves exit the spine at the lower thoracic and upper lumbar region; the parasympathetic exit at the sacrum. Misalignment of the spine, sacrum or lower ribs can upset the balance between the two systems. Low back or hip pain is indicative of altered alignment and mechanics, often a result of postural habits or earlier trauma such as falls on the tailbone. Most often, the sympathetic system dominates and inhibits the parasympathetic – it’s a built-in survival mechanism.
A heightened stress response alters the flow of both blood and lymphatic fluid resulting in congestion and stagnation. Restricted flow impedes delivery of essential reproductive hormones and removal of waste products.
Hormonal control of reproductive function is under the supervision of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, housed deep within the cranium. Altered muscle and connective tissue tension in the neck and thorax, as well as within the skull itself, restrict blood supply and drainage altering hormonal communication to the end organs. Headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and “foggy brain” are common complaints. Head trauma, including whiplash injuries, “forward head posture” and altered breathing patterns predispose to dysfunction at this level.
Looking inside the bony container, position, mobility, and motility of the organs is necessary for optimal function. Each one needs to be in its’ correct position and ‘mobile’, free to slide and shift in relation to its surrounding structures. Motility is the subtle inherent rhythmical motion of each organ, essential for vitality and optimal function.
Ligaments attach the uterus to the pelvic bones and maintain its ideal position. If your pelvis is twisted or rotated your uterus may be pulled slightly off centre. The broad ligament, on either side of the uterus, is connected to the ovaries and fallopian tubes which affect their position too. Altered position will affect fluid flow, tissue health, and hormonal effectiveness.
Scar tissue, both internal and external, is another frequent contributor to altered reproductive function. Adhesions, bands of scar tissue that cause internal structures to stick together and alter organ position, mobility, and motility. Surgical procedures (even laparoscopic), infections, endometriosis or trauma can lead to adhesion formation. Symptoms of adhesions include chronic abdominal or pelvic pain, discomfort with certain movements or positions and difficulty with bowel movements.
Pressure from other abdominal and pelvic organs also impacts reproductive organs and their corresponding arteries and veins. An example is chronic constipation causing compression from the colon. Abnormal tensions in the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles, often due to stress and poor alignment, increase pressure in the abdominopelvic cavity altering organ position. Bloating, reflux and increased urgency or frequency of urination are symptomatic of pressure problems. As with a nervous system imbalance, these changes compromise blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
Alterations in structure anywhere in the body can affect the function elsewhere. Even foot or ankle problems may affect reproductive health via the effect on other structures from altered gait mechanics and alignment.
The osteopathic perspective on health, including fertility, considers the whole person – body, mind and spirit – and views disease as the inability to adapt further to stressors. Rather than focus on the symptoms, we look for the underlying causes of dysfunction – physical injury, poor posture, emotional stress…
Osteopathic treatment combines an extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics to restore structural freedom in the tissues, enhance fluid flow throughout the body, and create the optimal environment for healing.
Do you think your structure could be a factor in your fertility?
Note: A variation of this post is included in the resources available on Dr. Shawna Darou’s Unexplained Infertility website.