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Ovia Health Blog

Period cramps shouldn’t be a major pain: How to treat menstrual cramp discomfort

April 23, 2019

No one likes getting period cramps. Whether they’re mild or severe, the discomfort they bring can severely cramp your style. The good news is, normal period cramps usually only last a few days - often beginning right before you get your period and lasting one or two more days. Over time, many people come to learn what normal cramping means for them, because normal might mean mild discomfort or the sort of pain that makes you want to stay in bed. (Psst! This is why it can be so helpful to track your cycle and all your accompanying symptoms to look for patterns over time and learn what a normal menstrual cycle means for you.) But fortunately there are a lot of options for what you can do to get some relief.

Just what’s normal?

For many people, normal menstrual cramps are felt in the lower abdomen, can range from mild to severe, and feel like throbbing, aching, pressure, or tightness. Many people also experience pain in their lower back, hips, or inner thighs. And sometimes this discomfort comes with fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. It may be normal, but it’s far from fun. So what can you do to lessen your discomfort?

How to get some relief

  • Embrace the heat - use a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen or lower back. Or, similarly, take a warm bath - epsom salts or some essential oils like lavender, clary sage, or marjoram can make it extra relaxing.

  • Drinking something warm, like decaffeinated tea, can often help too.

  • Gently massage your lower abdomen and lower back.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking, all of which can make cramps worse.

  • Stay hydrated and eat a nutritious diet, focusing on foods like veggies, whole grains, fruit, lean protein, good fats, and dairy. You may also want to avoid particularly salty food, which can dehydrate you.

  • Exercise if you’re comfortable doing so. Some people are surprised to hear it, but this can also help improve cramps.

  • Alternately, if that’s not what you’re feeling up to, take it easy. It’s most important to listen to your body, so based on how you’re feeling, rest if you feel like that will help.

  • If you do get cozy in bed, try lying on your side with your knees pulled up to your chest or on your back with a pillow under your knees to help relieve pressure on your back.

  • There have been no peer-reviewed studies on whether or not this can actually help, and, again, it’s all about what you’re in the mood for, but since your uterus contracts while having an orgasm, it will relax afterward, and it may help you relax too. If you happen to be in the mood, you may want to go for the O, either alone or with a partner. The endorphins released during an orgasm may also help you feel a bit better for the same reason exercise can help.

  • Destress as much as you can, because stress can make cramps worse. Sure, that might sound like an impossible task - by the way, while you’re in pain and discomfort, do try to calm down - but think of it less as flipping an ON/OFF switch from stressed to destressed, and think instead about how you might be able to add some relaxing rituals to that time of the month. What helps you feel calm and happy? You can even add in some other tips that help with cramping into your calming rituals. Maybe it’s snuggling up with a heating pad, a cup of decaffeinated tea, and a good book. Maybe it’s doing some yoga and then taking a warm bath, or listening to a relaxing album while cooking a meal, or listening to a podcast you love while taking a brisk walk.

  • Check with your healthcare provider first, but over the counter pain relievers - specifically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium - target cramp-causing chemicals in your body called prostaglandins, and can lessen cramping. These usually work best when taken at the first sign of menstrual pain or of your period and then for one or two days after that. Even though these are over the counter medications, they aren’t a good fit for everyone - including people with aspirin allergy, bleeding disorders, liver damage, stomach disorders, ulcers, or asthma - so, again, check with your provider first.

  • Some people find that a prescription for hormonal birth control - like the pill, the patch, the ring, or a hormonal IUD - can help relieve menstrual cramp pain. These options can shorten the length and lessen the flow of your period, thin the uterine lining, or prevent ovulation so you're not building up endometrial tissue, which means that prostaglandin, and cramps, can decrease.

  • There are some alternative treatments that have been shown to be helpful but do need more research to be sure if they’re truly effective. Magnesium supplements, Vitamin B1, Vitamin D, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, and even acupuncture might help, so talk to your provider.

What to do if you’re still in pain

If you try some of these simpler ideas, and, say, a heating pad just doesn’t seem to be cutting it, reach out to your healthcare provider so that they can help you find some relief. And if you ever have cramps that seems to start earlier in your cycle and last longer than just a few days, or if you have cramps that feel extra strong or unusual in any way, there could be something else going on. In that case, get in touch with your provider right away so they can figure out what’s causing you discomfort or pain. Whether you’re dealing with normal menstrual cramp discomfort or something more, you deserve to feel better.

 

Sources
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Menstrual cramps.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, April 14 2018. Retrieved February 25 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938.
  • “Dysmenorrhea.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 25 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4148-dysmenorrhea.
  • “Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. January 2015. Retrieved February 25 2019. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Dysmenorrhea-Painful-Periods.
  • “What can I do about cramps and PMS?” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Retrieved February 25 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/what-can-i-do-about-cramps-and-pms.