Oct. 23, 2002 -- Stacy Virtue had all but given up the idea of having a baby when she sought help for constant pain from endometriosis a year and a half ago. She had been told she would never be able to get pregnant, and one doctor even recommended that the 27-year-old have a hysterectomy.
The treatment Virtue had was a pelvic massage technique developed by a husband-wife team in Gainesville, Fla. Massage therapist Larry Wurn and his wife, Belinda, who is a physical therapist, say they have a success rate of close to 50% with their technique -- roughly double that seen with many established assisted-reproduction procedures.
They say the intensive massage therapy is highly effective for clearing blocked fallopian tubes and can also help women with other infertilities caused by adhesions. And they say that 25 babies either have been or will soon be born to the roughly 50 infertile women who have had the treatment.
But at this point, the claim of a 50% success rate is based solely on anecdotal reports. A spokesperson for the national infertility group RESOLVE says that good studies are needed to verify the claims. The Wurns' findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but they say they hope to do so within the next year.
"Until a procedure is proven effective in good, controlled studies, there is no way to know if it has merit," says Diane Clapp, RN, who is director of medical information for RESOLVE. "This is such a vulnerable population. They are often willing to try anything, and that's why studies are so important."
Larry Wurn tells WebMD he began treating infertile women with the technique almost by accident, when a patient seeing him for pelvic pain became pregnant.
"She told us her tubes had been blocked for seven years," he says. "Then a doctor referred another lady to us who had been infertile for three years and she ended up having twins. When that happened, the doctor sent his own wife to us."
The doctor's wife was 41 at the time and had been trying to conceive for 12 years. She had a history of endometriosis, had undergone surgery to remove an ovary and fallopian tube, and her remaining tube was blocked. After beginning physical therapy with Belinda Wurn, she, too, became pregnant and delivered a healthy child.
Wurn and his wife now run Clear Passage Therapies and have patented the pelvic massage technique they developed. They hope to eventually teach it to physical therapists nationwide.
He says 70% of a typical treatment session focuses on the area between the bellybutton and the knee and includes both external and internal massage. Patients generally have 20 hours of treatment, often given in two-hour sessions. For the past year, thanks to news reports, patients have come from all over the U.S. and the globe.
"Out-of-town patients come in on Monday and are done on Friday," he says. "The change that you feel in that short period is remarkable."
Wurn says he believes the technique could benefit 50% of women seeking treatment for infertility, as an adjunct to traditional assisted-reproduction techniques. The treatment is much cheaper than most established therapies -- $3,500 for a course vs. about $10,000 to $15,000 for in vitro fertilization. And unlike IVF, it is typically covered by insurance.
Marvin Heuer, MD, who is conducting the ongoing research on the procedure, tells WebMD that the massage technique also shows promise in the treatment of severe pain from endometriosis. Heuer runs the clinical research firm Clin Sci International.
"The hope is that one day people will try this technique first," he says. "It doesn't take a lot of treatments to find out if it is going to be successful."
Stacy Virtue says her pelvic pain began to subside almost immediately after beginning the treatments, and the agony that routinely accompanied her periods has vanished.
"All the doctors I went to for pain said there was nothing they could do for me," says Virtue, who gave birth to son Aidan last February. "This treatment was a godsend for me, for many reasons." -->