Tampons don’t affect period cramps because they sit in the vagina, while period cramps happen in the uterus. That said, wearing a tampon may cause pelvic pain or increase discomfort.
Some people swear that tampons make their cramps worse. Cramps are a pain — literally — but tampons don’t have anything to do with it.
That said, tampons can sometimes cause pain that resembles cramps. Here’s a closer look at what really causes cramps, why tampons might cause other kinds of pain, and how to manage cramps — regardless of what’s causing them.
Period cramps happen when hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins trigger the muscles and blood vessels in your uterus to contract. The contractions help the uterus shed its lining, which is what period blood is.
Prostaglandin levels are at their highest on the first day of your period, so your cramps are worse. As the levels drop, your cramps improve.
If the day your period starts coincides with tampon use — which it usually does for most — that could explain why some people attribute their cramp severity to tampon use.
Tamps and cramps may not be a thing, but sometimes tampons can be a source of discomfort. They might contribute to pelvic pain, but pelvic pain and period pain aren’t always the same.
A tampon might trigger or worsen pain in that general area if someone has an underlying condition, for instance.
Here are some potential situations when a tampon might cause or worsen pain:
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in people with vaginas. This is because the urethra is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder. Some people are more prone to UTIs during certain times in their cycle, like just before a period.
UTIs can cause pelvic and lower abdominal pain and cramping, along with pain when you pee and pain during sex. For some, wearing a tampon might increase this pain.
If you have endometriosis, your uterine cells grow outside the uterus, most often in the pelvic cavity and reproductive organs. This causes inflammation, scarring, and pain that tends to be worse around your period.
Endometriosis can cause painful sex, urination, and bowel movements. Wearing tampons might also cause pain.
Wrong size tampon
Yup, tampons come in different sizes to accommodate the intensity of your flow. Wearing a size that’s too big can make inserting and wearing the tampon uncomfortable. Without enough period blood to absorb, the cotton sticks the skin inside your vaginal canal. Ouch.
Using the wrong absorbency can also increase your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is most prevalent when a tampon is left in for too long. Using too high of an absorbency may scratch the vagina, which lets bacteria into the bloodstream.
Tampons may not be the cause of your cramps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find relief.
Here are some ways to manage those cramps:
- Take an OTC pain reliever. Any OTC pain reliever will offer some relief, but for period cramps, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), work best. They don’t just reduce inflammation to relieve pain, they also reduce the number of prostaglandins your body makes and lessens their effects.
- Apply heat. Applying heat where you’re cramping can help relax your muscles and increase circulation to the area for relief from cramps. You can get your cramp-busting heat via heat patches, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle.
- Take a hot bath. Soaking in a hot bath for 15 minutes can help cramps by relaxing the muscles in your pelvis, lower abdomen, and back. You may be able to boost your bath’s cramp-relieving powers by adding a few drops of cinnamon bark essential oil, which has a warming effect and is an anti-inflammatory.
- Get some exercise. It may not sound like fun when you’re crampy, but exercise has been shown to reduce the intensity and duration of period cramps. This includes exercise of any intensity performed for
45 to 60 minutes, at least 3 times a week. Think: yoga, stretching, or aerobics.
- Consider birth control. If you’re looking or long lasting help with cramps, consider talking with a healthcare professional about birth control. Hormonal birth control can help prevent period cramps. It can also help with other period issues, like irregular or heavy periods and acne.
Menstrual cramps are pretty common, but they could also sometimes be a sign of an underlying issue. Also, using tampons shouldn’t hurt.
See a healthcare professional if:
- your cramps are severe
- your period becomes heavier or irregular
- your cramps persist beyond the first 1 or 2 days of your period
- you experience pain when trying to insert a tampon or have sex
- you have symptoms of a UTI
Get immediate medical care if you develop sudden, severe pelvic or lower abdominal pain, or if you develop symptoms of TSS.
TSS symptoms usually come on suddenly and include:
Tampons don’t make cramps worse and have nothing to do with them — period.
Period cramps are common and, in most cases, short-lived and easy enough to manage on your own. If you’re not able to get relief or wearing tampons seems to trigger severe pain or other symptoms, it might be a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional.