Ovarian cysts commonly affect women during their reproductive years. While most ovarian cysts are small and go unnoticed, others may cause a range of symptoms -- from mild discomfort to severe pain. If you suffer from painful ovarian cysts, sometimes exercise or strenuous physical activity can add to your discomfort and may need to be curtailed. However, exercise has many health benefits including managing the abnormal hormone levels found in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition which is characterized by the presence of many small ovarian cysts.
Ovarian cysts are categorized as functional, formed during the monthly menstrual cycle, or pathological, which can be benign or cancerous growths. The more common functional cysts are blister-like pockets of fluid that form in the follicles, the fluid-filled sacs that hold the maturing eggs. Most of these cysts are too small to cause symptoms and go away without treatment. However, the larger cysts may lead to discomfort -- or even severe pain. Large ovarian cysts can sometimes rupture or increase the risk of ovarian torsion, a painful twisting of the ovary. If you have large or painful cysts, your doctor will decide whether to watch and wait, prescribe medications or surgically remove the cyst.
Exercise is an important way to promote health and to maintain a desired body weight, so a physically active lifestyle should be encouraged for all women. If you have small and painless ovarian cysts, exercise can be included on a regular basis. Exercise is cornerstone of therapy in managing PCOS, and a small study published in the June 2008 issue of "Journal of Exercise Science and Physiotherapy" showed that physical activity reduced cyst size in women with PCOS. In the case of painful cysts, however, exercise may need to be limited if it adds to your discomfort.
Although you may be concerned about strenuous exercise triggering cyst rupture or ovarian torsion, a review of the management of adnexal or ovarian masses, published in the April 2016 "American Family Physician," does not include exercise restriction in ovarian cyst management. However, there have been case reports of exercise-induced ovarian torsion, according to a February 2003 article in "Human Reproduction." Whether or not to curtail exercise needs to be based on your symptoms and should follow the advice of your doctor.
Consult your doctor if you think you have an ovarian cyst. Although this is a common condition during the childbearing years, ovarian cysts may occur at any age. If you have painful cysts, listen to your body and take it easy if exercise causes discomfort. Also, get approval from your doctor before you participate in strenuous exercise. Get urgent medical attention if you have sudden, severe and sharp pain which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or vaginal blood loss.
Is This an Emergency?
- Office on Women's Health: Ovarian Cysts
- American Family Physician: Diagnosis and Management of Adnexal Masses
- Journal of Exercise Science and Physiotherapy: Exercise-Induced Weight Reduction and Fertility Outcomes in Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Who Are Obese and Infertile: A Preliminary Report
- Minerva Endocrinologica: Overweight in polycystic ovary syndrome. An Update on Evidence Based Advice on Diet, Exercise and Metformin Use for Weight Loss
- Human Reproduction: Exercise‐Induced Ovarian Torsion in the Cycle Following Gonadotrophin Therapy: Case Report