While period cramps can be painful, there are many ways to help get rid of the pain.
Period pain can be so bad that doctors have actually given it a medical name: dysmenorrhea.
It’s a very common condition. More than half of women
who menstruate report some pain from period cramps each month, according
to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
While cramps are not usually a sign of a serious health
condition, they could be. And they undoubtedly put a crimp in your
lifestyle, since you can’t go out with friends or even go to work when
you’re doubled over.
Why Are Period Cramps Painful?
is thought to be caused by compounds in the body known as
prostaglandins. Before menstruation starts each month, the level of
prostaglandins in the lining of the uterus increases.
prostaglandin level is its highest on the first day of your menstrual
period, which is why menstrual pain is usually worse then. As your
period progresses and the lining of the uterus is shed, your
prostaglandin level decreases and pain gets better, ACOG states.
How to Tell if Your Period Cramping Is Normal
girl or woman typically experiences a similar level of cramps from one
month to the next, says Jackie Thielen, MD, an internist and women’s
health specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. For some
women, monthly pain is minor. For others, it can be quite debilitating.
The main question doctors ask when determining whether your cramps are normal is “Are they normal for you?” Dr. Thielen says.
Can Bad Period Cramps Be a Sign of Something Else?
cramps usually don’t signify that something is wrong with your health.
But in some cases they can be a symptom of a medical condition:
This disorder occurs when tissue similar to the tissue that normally
lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus, often
adhering to your bladder, ovaries, or even your bowels.
Fibroids These are noncancerous growths that emerge inside the uterine
walls. They can range in size from one tiny speck to several bulky
- Adenomyosis Tissue that normally lines the uterus begins to grow inside the organ’s muscle wall.
from these conditions may seem like period pain, but it typically lasts
longer and can be more severe than your usual menstrual cramps.
If you experience this type of pain, it’s important to see your doctor, Thielen says.
Can You Heal Menstrual Cramps With Home Remedies?
Most of the time, menstrual cramps can be treated by women at home.
if your pain is severe and impacts your lifestyle, don’t be afraid to
talk to your doctor. You might need medicines that are only available by
prescription or some other treatment to help.
To help reduce period pain, here are 10 safe and effective home remedies for menstrual cramp relief.
1. Try Some Yoga Poses to Ease Menstrual Pain
it’s the stretching of your muscles or the relaxing effect of the
poses, a regular yoga practice can indeed help your cramps.
20 undergraduate students did an hour-long yoga program once a week for
three months, they had less menstrual cramping and period distress than
20 women who didn’t, according to researchers for a study published in
September 2016 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
The Journal of Physiotherapy review that sanctioned heating pads also found benefits for yoga.
can practice during your period or between them, but some instructors
advise women against doing inverted poses (like a shoulder stand) in the
midst of menstruation, so as not interfere with your natural flow.
2. Curl Up With a Heating Pad to Ease Period Cramps
“The uterus is a muscle, so anything that helps relax muscles, like applying heat, can be beneficial, Thielen says.
research published in Evidence-Based Nursing found that topically
applied heat was just as effective as ibuprofen for period cramps. Over
the two study days, the women used heat alone, heat plus ibuprofen,
ibuprofen alone, or a placebo. The best results were in the heat plus
ibuprofen group; adding heat led to faster improvements.
published in March 2014 in The Journal of Physiotherapy also found that
heat significantly lessened a woman’s period pain.
3. Pop a Safe Painkiller to Cut the Inflammation
use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication like ibuprofen
(Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) is one of the best ways to curb
period pain, Thielen says. This is because NSAIDs reduce the amount of
prostaglandins in the body. For this reason, taking a pill just before
you get your period can keep the level of pain-causing prostaglandins
from rising, she says.
As with any medicine, you should first
check with your doctor to be sure NSAIDs are a good choice for you,
especially if you have a history of bleeding or stomach or kidney
If the NSAIDs you buy in the store don’t offer enough
relief, your doctor might prescribe an NSAID with more potency. “Some
women need up to 800 milligrams three times a day for cramps. You’d have
to take a lot of over-the-counter pills to equal that,” Thielen says.
4. Acupuncture May Help by Relaxing the Nervous System
can help relieve cramps, says Jeannie Bianchi, a licensed acupuncturist
in San Francisco. This ancient Asian healing method is thought to relax
the nervous system, allow more blood to flow to internal organs, and
quell inflammation, Bianchi says.
In a review published in April
2016 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews experts looked at 42
studies that observed the effects of acupuncture on period cramps. Each
compared acupuncture with no treatment, conventional treatment (such as
anti-inflammatory drugs), or a sham acupuncture procedure. Many of the
studies found that the acupuncture group had less period pain and no
side effects. The researchers emphasize, however, that the quality of
all of the studies was poor.
5. Some Herbal Tea Varieties Can Calm Cramping
teas may help relieve menstrual cramps, says Sonya Angelone, a
registered dietitian nutritionist in the San Francisco Bay area.
on herbal teas for menstrual pain relief is scarce, but teas have been
used by menstruating women in numerous cultures for centuries.
and peppermint teas are often recommended for menstrual pain because
they are calming to the body. Other teas associated with dysmenorrhea
are those made from cramp bark, ginger, or fennel.
6. Up the Magnesium in Your Diet
magnesium seems to help ease the pain of cramps, says DeJarra Sims, ND,
a faculty member at Bastyr University in San Diego and the author of
Your Healthiest Life Now.
Magnesium is found in many foods, including almonds, black beans, spinach, yogurt, and peanut butter.
you want to take a magnesium supplement, Dr. Sims suggests speaking
with your doctor, since the dose you need depends on the severity of
your cramps along with other factors.
7. Massage With Essential Oils for Pain Relief
your skin with certain aromatic essential oils can relieve menstrual
cramp pain, according to research published in The Journal of Obstetrics
and Gynaecology Research. Investigators asked 48 women with menstrual
cramps and other symptoms to massage either essential oils or a
synthetic fragrance into their lower abdomen between periods.
in both groups reported less pain, but the essential oils group did
better. Based on the women’s reports, researchers found that the
duration of pain was reduced by almost a half a day after self-massaging
with the essential oils.
Some oils thought to be helpful include lavender essential oil, clary sage essential oil, and marjoram essential oil.
be sure you’re using essential oils safely. Buy high-quality oils that
are tested for purity. The National Association for Holistic
Aromatherapy suggests diluting pure essential oils in an unscented
cream, lotion, or carrier oil before placing it on your skin to avoid
8. Boost Those Feel-Good Endorphins With Exercise (or Orgasm)
body’s natural endorphins are known to boost your mood. But they also
have a pain-relieving effect. A well-known way to boost endorphins is
aerobic exercise. Having an orgasm is another.
A study published
in March 2015 in the Journal of Family & Reproductive Health, found
that, in 100 women, either stretching exercises or aerobic exercises
done three times a week for two months reduced cramping.
9. Improving Your Diet May Alleviate Period Cramps
researchers put 33 women with dysmenorrhea on a low-fat vegetarian
diet, they found it eased their cramps, according to research published
in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Start by swapping out less healthy
fats like the saturated fats found in animal products for healthier ones
like unsaturated fats found in olive oil, suggests the American Heart
Association. Overall, try to make the fats you eat better quality, such
as those found in fish or nuts, the organization suggests. Examples of
meals not overly reliant on fats can be found in the healthy eating
plate guide from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
10. Birth Control Pills May Lessen Painful Cramping, Too
not exactly a home remedy, birth control pills and hormonal
intrauterine devices are potential tools in your anticramping arsenal
and should not be overlooked, Thielen says.
Consider cramp relief a
benefit to some types of contraception. Many women find relief from
painful cramps when they start the pill, Thielen says. “Hormonal birth
control typically lessens the amount of bleeding, and less bleeding can
translate into fewer cramps,” she says.