Coping with Painful Periods

This hub outlines:

  • the causes of this problem
  • practical advice to cope with the problem
  • nutritional advice
  • alternative therapies
  • medical advice

The causes of this problem

Painful periods (dysmenorrhoea) affect around half of menstruating women. If pain occurs during the period when there is no disease, it is known as Primary Dysmenorrhoea. It is probably due to a build up of naturally occurring prostaglandins in the lining of the uterus. Prostaglandins are necessary because they help the uterus to contract and shed the unwanted lining during a period. However too much of this chemical causes the uterus to contract too hard which can lead to pain.

Secondary Dysmenorrhoea is defined as painful periods that are the product of underlying problems or disease. Medical advice should be sought if you are severely affected so that disease can be ruled out or treated. Most of the advice in this hub is only useful to people who have ruled out the possibility of having Secondary Dysmenorrhoea. There is not much point in trying to deal with the pain if there is something underlying that is causing it and needs treatment.

Practical Advice

Sleep! When I was younger and I complained to a nurse about my period pains she said "Be kind to yourself." That means having a relaxing bath, making up a hot water bottle, putting on your comfortable pyjamas and curling up to sleep. Let your body do what it has to do and wake up somewhat refreshed. This is fine as long as you're not too busy or too in pain to sleep.

Back at school, whenever girls tried to get out of doing P.E. lessons by complaining of bad period pains, the gym teachers would say exercise is the best for them. This may have added to the sadistic reputation that some gym teachers have but they were right - exercise works. 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise gets the blood flowing and promotes better hormone balance. I always feel better after a good workout. But sometimes of course you just feel too miserable and crampy to begin.

Nutritional advice

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that adhering to a healthy low-fat vegetarian diet can reduce or eliminate period pain completely (Remember - prostaglandins are made of fat and prostaglandins promote inflammation and blood vessel constriction). Becoming a vegetarian is a huge change and may be too much to ask for many people but there are other changes that can be made to the diet that are less drastic. Having an ample amount of B6 and omega oils in the diet could significantly reduce period pain because it's involved with the removal of oestrogen in the body and is also known to inhibit pain sensations. Take a B6 supplement along with Evening Primrose oil. You should not take excessive amounts of B6 (more than 100mg daily)on a long term basis because it will interfere with the absorption of the other B vitamins. Start taking it a few days before the period is due to start and then the first two or three days of the period. For the rest of the month just ensure that the diet contains foods which have naturally occurring B6.

Delicious foods containing B6:

  • Wheatgerm
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Brown rice
  • Porridge
  • Bananas
  • Nuts
  • Avocados

Delicious foods containing omega oils:

  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Flax and hemp seeds

Fibre is also an important factor here. The body needs fibre to carry excess oestrogen out as waste.

Fibrous foods include:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains

Calcium and Magnesium

Women suffering from painful periods usually have less calcium in the body than pain-free women so a healthy calcium-magnesium balance must be important. These minerals are often found together in supplements because they complement each other. To get the balance right through healthy eating, include foods like leafy green vegetables, beans, soya milk and yoghurt in the diet. To ensure that the calcium in the body is reduced as much as possible, exercise regularly and avoid tobacco, coffee and excessive vitamin D in supplements.

Foods to avoid:

  • Alcohol (destroys B6)
  • Sugary foods (try to ignore those chocolate cravings!)
  • Coffee
  • Fatty foods
  • Salty foods (can cause water retention and additional pressure right in the area you don't want it)


Staying well hydrated is always important. It's especially useful now in eliminating toxins which can add to the pain and other symptoms.

Alternative therapies

Aromatherapy and Herb therapy

The act of breathing deeply when inhaling essential oils relaxes the body which in turn makes the contractions lessen but these particular oils have their own special properties which make them ideal for use around this time of the month. Simply sniffing a bottle of peppermint oil can diminish the sensitivity associated with periods. Smelling the soothing aroma of spearmint oil can gently wash the pain away - I don't leave the house without it. Basil and ginger are also recommended for cramps. Having a massage on the lower abdomen and feet using any of these oils will be a pleasant and beneficial experience. Or you could add a few drops to the bath or a vaporiser. Peppermint and spearmint teabags are also essential items at this time of the month. Having a cup of spearmint and chamomile tea before bedtime goes with the aforementioned, "being kind to yourself". Ginger tea can also be effective.

Lush do a great shower gel called "Flying Fox". It's billed as the "Sex-Appeal Honey Shower Gel" and contains aphrodisiac essential oils plus the best three for controlling PMS. So it's not specifically designed to relieve pain but it does help with relaxation, easing tension and desensitising which does have a knock on effect on pain. Obviously if you tense up and seethe at everyone and everything through gritted teeth, your body and blood vessels will take your cue. After the success of the shower gel, Lush went on to release Flying Fox temple balm, a solid perfume that can be used on the wrists and temples for a direct pick me up.

Lil-lets produce a Relaxing Rub which is designed to help soothe and relax you during your period. The main ingredients are lavender, lemongrass and bergamot which are great for relaxation but quiet ineffectual on pain. If they added spearmint oil to the mix it would be perfect. It is nice to have something pre-made to massage into your abdomen though.


I have only recently tried Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with some success. It involves tapping into the emotions associated with the pain. The idea is that once the negative emotions are brought to the surface and replaced with loving affirmations, the problem goes away. The techniques really do need to be studied in more detail than I can go into right now and the EFT website is great for that. With some practice it might render the other remedies in this article obsolete! However, it's always nice to have a ride range of options.

Medical Treatment

A doctor can prescribe effective pain killing drugs. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can be particularly effective, especially if taken the day before the period is due to begin (remember those constricted blood vessels). Having to rely on prescriptions in order to function for the rest of your reproductive life is not a desirable thought for everyone, especially due to the effects on the liver and other possible side-effects. The doctor can also prescribe a contraceptive pill which will help by regulating the hormones in the body. Remember, if there is a reduced amount of oestrogen in the body, the endometrial lining in the womb will be thinner and therefore there will be less pain involved in eliminating it from the body.

Advantages of taking the contraceptive pill:

  • Less painful/pain-free and lighter periods
  • Reduced PMS symptoms
  • Control over the monthly cycle (tri-cycling)
  • Effective contraception

Disadvantages of taking the contraceptive pill:

  • Having to stick to the routine/remembering to take it
  • A long list of possible side-effects
  • Potential weight-gain

I hope there is something in this hub that you can find beneficial. The information here is largely based on many years of personal experience and hours of study. If you have any more tips or advice on this topic I'd love to hear it. In the meantime - be kind to yourself!


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