- Women's Health
Period Pain Relief: 10 Remedies for Menstrual Cramps You Wish You'd Discovered Earlier
If you've never suffered from menstrual pain, thank your lucky stars. Some of my most vivid and haunting memories of my school years were the days I was literally doubled over in pain, vomiting and yes, even occasionally crying. The moment I began my period I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, my mother was sympathetic as she, too suffered from dysmenorrhea (a fancy term for horrific menstrual cramps!). I would call her from school, tell her I had a visit from the aunt and she was on her way to pick me up.
A friend of my oldest daughter spent the night the other night and reminded me just how awful it could be. Poor girl was miserable, curled up on the bathroom floor completely desperate. Fortunately, I had a few period pain relief remedies up my sleeve from years of suffering.
Before I go on, I want to express the importance of seeking proper medical care if you're consistently suffering every month. You definitely want to rule out the possibility you have Endometriosis, a painful condition where uterine cells actually grow outside of your uterus. This condition can cause very painful periods and a whole host of other problems, including reproductive issues. So, make sure you talk to your doctor!
What You Should Do Before You Begin Your Period
There are some ways to decrease the chances you'll be immobilized by pain each month. I learned these lessons a bit too late, unfortunately. And some were simply serendipitous discoveries I made. When I began getting my cramps, I would always take Naprosyn in the hopes it would miraculously take the edge off my pain. Perhaps I was one of the unfortunate ones, but no medication worked when I was in the thralls of the cramps. In fact, I was so desperate and sick once my mother actually gave me a narcotic she'd been given when she had her hysterectomy. It did nothing except make me feel sicker to my stomach and even more tired.
So, here's what I learned and what I highly recommend to you: start taking an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS) a few days before you're due to menstruate. It takes a while for these medications to build up in your system. Bottom line, women with painful cramps produce high levels of hormones called prostaglandins. NSAIDS block the production of prostaglandins. Taking them when your cramps begin is not going to do much for you in terms of pain relief. A generic ibuprofen is a good one to try.
Oral Contraceptives might also help you. Talk to your doctor about this option.
Please Note: Talk to your doctor before using NSAIDS. Not only can they irritate the stomach, but they can also cause stomach bleeding and ulcers.
Okay, there's no arguing that exercise is good for your body anyway. But, getting regular exercise will help relieve your monthly cramps. Even taking a brisk 20 minute walk at least three times per week (or any aerobic exercise) will help.
Try Yoga or Pilates! Studies show a correlation between stress and prostaglandin production. So, it could be that exercise is a great stress reliever and works to reduce these pesky hormones. Others theorize exercise produces natural endorphins, which are your body's built-in painkillers.
- Reduce or completely eliminate caffeine: It's been shown to exacerbate PMS symptoms.
- Reduce your salt intake: it can contribute to excess water retention and excessive bloating.
- Some evidence supports the positive effects a low fat, vegetarian diet can have on dysmenorrhea: The theory is this high fiber, low fat, plant-based diet can decrease blood estrogen levels.
- Try Vitamin E, thiamine, fish oil substitutes, and magnesium: Again, some studies have suggested these supplements may aid in decreasing painful periods.
Please discuss these options with your doctor.
Positions When You're Doubled Over in Pain
- Get in a child's pose position: Okay, if you aren't familiar with Yoga, you may not know what I mean. See the photo on the right for an example. Now, I know you are feeling terrible and attempting any Yoga poses probably doesn't sound like a lot of fun! But, trust me: this will make you feel better. I discovered this pose quite by accident as I fumbled around, miserable and attempting to find any position I could bear. The key here (and your biggest challenge) is to try to remain as relaxed as you can. Take deep breaths, in and out and in and out. Relax your arms, back, abdomen and legs. The more you can relax, the more you will benefit from the position.
- Stretch your abdominal muscles in the cobra position: If the cobra position is too much for you, try the sphinx. It's a gentler stretch and very effective for cramps. Both positions will stretch your back (which often hurts), the abdominal and pelvic muscles. Again, attempt to get yourself as relaxed as possible. I know we all tense up when we're in pain, so I'm asking a lot! But, really concentrate on your breathing and focusing on the position.
Massage and Tapping Technique
- The Tapping Method: Okay, I know this may sound strange, but I told you I tried everything to relieve my cramps. This is another method I discovered out of sheer desperation. Honestly, I'm not sure why it works, but I call it my "tapping method." Basically, you will gently tap the area over your uterus with the your hands and fingers. It somehow seems to interrupt the pain. Trust me, I'd love to know the medical reason why this works, but I've yet to happen upon an explanation. The closest I've come is the possibility that it could increase blood circulation... Anyway, give it a try. You will want to tap pretty quickly and rhythmically. I guess you can say you will find your own beat!
- The Massage Method: Yup, another slightly odd one conceived for the same reason above! Anyway, in the same vein a tapping, you will be instead gently massaging the area above the uterus. Take the pads of the fingers and gently massage in circular motions. You may also experience pain in the inner thighs, so try massaging there as well. The two combined seem to assist in breaking the pain cycle. Heck, add some taps, too!
There's nothing new about this suggestion, but there's a reason it's so widely recommended.
- Try a heating pad
- Try a hot bath—I found this to be the most effective, probably because it relaxes your entire body, which no doubt is very tense from the pain! Add a little lavender to aid in relaxation, too. You can use dried lavender or essential oil.
Try Some Hot Tea
Okay, this is one of my favorite remedies.
- Tension Tamer Tea by Celestial Seasonings: I'm telling you, this stuff should be marketed as a period pain remedy. Not only does the actual heat from the tea help, but the ingredients are just a perfect cure. Here are the ingredients: Eleuthero (also known as Siberian Ginseng), peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, chamomile, West Indian lemongrass, licorice, catnip, tilia flowers, natural lemon flavor with other natural flavors (contains soy lecithin), hops and Vitamins B6 and B12. The peppermint and ginger will soothe your nauseous stomach. Eluthero is known for helping the body better cope with stress. All I can say is I saw a marked improvement in my cramps after a cup of the stuff. Give it a try!
The Secret Remedy
- Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus): If you haven't discovered Cramp Bark (the name cracks me up, too), you better get on it. It's an herb that works as a uterine sedative. I was very skeptical at first, but remember I would try anything! I began adding a few drops to my Tension Tamer tea and was amazed by the results. You might want to start drinking tea with the Cramp Bark a few days before your period begins for best results. You can add the Cramp Bark to cinnamon tea, ginger tea or any other hot tea you enjoy! It also comes in capsules you can take, but I always used the drops.
A Message of Hope
I do want to add this little P.S. as a message of hope and encouragement. My mother used to tell me my cramps would get a lot better after I gave birth. And, I suppose a mother knows best—I no longer experience this debilitating pain. I've been pain-free for 12 years now after the birth of my oldest daughter.
I may get the occasional cramps but they are bearable and they are normally brief unlike the 24 plus hours of misery I used to experience. They no longer interfere with my life or disrupt my obligations.
Hang in there and let me know what you think of my remedies!