8 Ways to relieve painful menstrual cramps
It’s a phenomenon women around the world most likely have suffered from at least once in their reproductive lives – painful menstrual cramps. Simply mention the words, “time of the month” and women automatically know what you mean.
Menstruation is usually viewed by women as a temporary annoyance to get through each month. The majority of women have mild to no discomfort during their period. Yet about 40% of all women will experience wrenching pain and extreme discomfort when their period arrives known as menstrual cramps. Menstrual cramps are caused by uterine contraction where the uterus tightens and relaxes allowing blood to leave the uterus. Special chemicals called prostaglandins, released by the lining of the uterus, can increase the intensity of the contractions, especially if the levels are high.
The medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhea meaning “difficult or painful periods” and is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder. There are two types of dysmenorrhea:
Primary dysmenorrhea – The most common type in which cramps (pain in the lower belly area and /or lower back) can start 1-2 days before a period and can last 2-4 days.
Secondary dysmenorrhea – This is when cramps and lower back pain are a result of a medical problem such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Even though mild menstrual cramps are considered normal, they can put a crimp in a woman’s lifestyle.
To help with the pain of menstrual cramps, here are some of the best ways to bring relief. Women who do not find relief from the suggestions or are experiencing moderate to severe cramping should make an appointment with a gynecologist to rule out the possibility of more serious reasons for the pain such as endometriosis, fibroid tumors, or ovarian cysts.
Use a heating pad
Heating pads or using a microwavable warm pack placed on the lower abdomen can often help bring soothing relief. Soaking in a warm bath is another way to tone down uncomfortable cramps.
Exercise to relieve menstrual cramps
Regular exercise such as walking, bicycling, swimming or jogging can help prevent or at least reduce the severity of menstrual cramps for many women. If the pain of cramps is preventing a woman from exercising, she can try more gentle forms of movement such as yoga or water aerobics.
Reduce fat and increase intake of vegetables and antioxidant rich fruits
Women who routinely eat a high-fat diet with few vegetables may be setting themselves up for monthly menstrual cramps. Following a low-fat diet made of up plenty of vegetables helps reduce inflammation in the body and is good for overall health. Fruits high in antioxidants, such as berries, kale, tomatoes, bell pepper, and also dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao content), are all good choices to include daily to relieve menstrual cramps.
Acupuncture can relieve menstrual cramps
This alternative treatment appears to help relieve cramps by relaxing the nervous system. Acupuncture causes more vigorous blood flow to the internal organs and is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Discuss with a healthcare provider what their recommendation is on an OTC medication that can reduce menstrual cramps. The medications that work the best are “anti-prostaglandins” that help relieve discomfort and can make a woman’s period lighter causing the uterus to cramp less. When a woman starts to feel uncomfortable, she should take medications that contain ibuprofen or naproxen sodium and continue taking it every 4-6 hours or as recommended by her healthcare provider. Certain medications can cause an upset stomach so it helps to take them with food.
Similar to acupuncture, acupressure involves stimulating certain points on the body. Instead of using needles, gentle pressure is performed on the skin. Research is limited on acupressure’s effectiveness, but it may be more effective than a placebo in easing menstrual cramps.
Hormonal birth control
One way that has been found to get results for some women is placing them on birth control. Birth control contains hormones preventing ovulation which reduces menstrual cramps. There are several forms of delivery for birth control including pills, a patch a woman wears on her skin, an implant placed under the skin of the arm, a flexible ring inserted into the vagina, or an intrauterine device (IUD).