You may be able to relieve period cramps with over-the-counter pain relievers and home remedies, including exercising or using a heating pad.
Cramps affect many people before and during their period. While some people only experience mild cramps, others aren’t quite as lucky. In some cases, the pain from period cramps can be extreme and make a serious dent in your daily life.
If period pain is cramping your style every month, there are steps you can take to gain back control. Here are 14 proven home remedies that may ease your discomfort, and help you get back on track with your busy life.
Period cramps are caused by contractions in your uterus. These contractions are triggered by changes in your body’s hormone levels, particularly prostaglandins. When you menstruate, your uterus contracts and sheds its lining, which is released as blood through your vagina.
Some people are more likely to experience period pain, particularly those who:
- are younger than 30 years of age
- bleed heavily during their periods
- have irregular bleeding
- have a family history of period pain
- started puberty early (age 11 or earlier)
Using a heated patch or wrap on your abdomen can help relax the muscles of your uterus. It’s these muscles that cause period cramps. Heat can also boost circulation in your abdomen, which can reduce pain.
You can buy abdominal heat patches online or at any drugstore. They’re super easy to use — just peel and stick them on your abdomen.
Electric heating pads and hot water bottles aren’t as convenient to use as patches, but they’re good choices if you’re spending some time at home and don’t need to move around much.
Research suggests that some essential oils can help ease period cramps when massaged onto the abdomen, especially when used in a blend of oils.
Oils that seem to be most effective at reducing period cramps include:
Before using essential oils, you’ll want to mix them with a carrier oil, like coconut oil or jojoba oil. Carrier oils work by safely “carrying” the essential oil into your skin and helping to spread the oil over a large area. You’ll also want to do a patch test before applying essential oils to your skin, just to check for an allergy.
Once your oil mixture is ready to use, rub a few drops between your hands and then give your tummy a gentle massage using a circular motion.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can help with period cramps and other period-related pain, like headaches.
While pretty much any type is bound to offer some relief, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are best, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This is because NSAIDs don’t just relieve pain and inflammation, but they also reduce the number of prostaglandins made by your body and lessen their effects.
OTC NSAIDs include:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- naproxen (Aleve)
- aspirin (Bufferin)
To get the most bang for your buck, ibuprofen is the best of these OTC NSAID options, according to a
The study compared the effectiveness and safety of OTC pain relievers for period pain. The most effective was actually diclofenac, but it was worst for safety, making ibuprofen the best option for dysmenorrhea.
These medications work best if they’re taken at the first sign of cramps or pain. Be sure to take only as directed and talk with your doctor first if you have a history of heart, liver, or kidney problems, or if you have asthma, ulcers, or bleeding disorders.
According to a
In this study, scientists found that women who did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 days a week for 8 weeks showed significant reductions in period cramps.
To fit an aerobic workout into your schedule, consider biking to work, going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, dancing to your favorite tunes, or playing a sport you enjoy.
Soaking in a hot bath is another way to surround your abdominal, pelvic, and back muscles with the warmth they need to relax.
You can enhance the pain-relieving power of a good soak by adding a few drops of essential oils — like lavender, sage, or rose — mixed with a carrier oil to your bathwater. Adding Epsom salt may also help relieve muscle pain.
Try to relax in a hot bath for at least 15 minutes to get the most benefit from it.
In this study, experts found that women who participated in a 60-minute yoga class once a week for 12 weeks showed significant reductions in their period pain.
If you’d like to try yoga, look for a class with both a physical component and a relaxation component. Research suggests this combination is most effective at reducing pain from period cramps.
Several studies suggest that different types of dietary supplements may help reduce period cramps, though it’s not known exactly how they work.
A 2020 review of nine studies on the effectiveness of cinnamon, fennel, and ginger found that all were associated with reduced period pain. Cinnamon also appeared to shorten the duration of pain.
Other supplements that have been linked to reduced period cramps include:
- vitamins B6, B1, E, and D
- vitamin B12 and fish oil
As with OTC meds, use as directed, and talk with your doctor if you’re taking any other medications, as they may interact with supplements.
Some foods are better than others when it comes to improving — or worsening — period pain.
For instance, eating foods that reduce inflammation may help. These include:
- fatty fish
- extra virgin olive oil
It’s also a good idea to limit foods that can cause water retention, bloating, and discomfort, like:
- salty foods
- fatty foods
According to a
If you’re dehydrated, abdominal cramps might feel more painful.
Aim to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. You’ll need more if it’s hot, if you’ve been exercising, or if you simply feel thirsty.
Acupressure is a noninvasive approach that can provide relief from various types of pain. It involves using your fingers to apply firm pressure to specific body parts to help ease various symptoms.
Various studies have shown that acupressure may reduce the severity and duration of period pain.
According to some older research, rubbing circles on your calf at a point above your ankle can relieve period pain.
To give it a try, follow these steps:
- Measure four fingertips up from your inner ankle bone.
- Firmly rub this area for several minutes.
- Repeat daily as needed before and during your period.
If home remedies aren’t cutting it, consider talking with a healthcare professional about birth control for period pain.
Birth control pills are often prescribed to treat painful periods. Other hormonal birth control methods may also help period pain, including:
Bonus: Birth control may also help with other period issues, like PMS and mood stability.
Using a TENS machine may help relieve period pain. TENS — short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation —uses low-voltage electrical currents to treat pain.
Portable TENS units can be purchased for use at home and they’re easy to use. All you do is attach the sticky electrode patches to your skin over your lower abdomen or back where you feel the pain and choose the intensity setting that feels best.
Some people find using CBD for menstrual cramps to be helpful. There’s no research into the effects of CBD specifically for period pain, but anecdotal reports suggest it can help with inflammation and chronic pain.
Anecdotal reports say that the fetal position is the best sleeping position for menstrual cramps. This could be because the position doesn’t place weight on your abdomen or lower back which is where period pain is typically felt.
There isn’t any research into how your sleeping position can affect period pain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth giving a try.
Although period cramps are very common, severe pain isn’t normal. You’ll want to make an appointment to see a doctor if you:
- have period cramps so painful that you can’t go about your daily activities
- started having severe menstrual cramps at or after age 25
Extreme pain before or during your period can be a sign of a more serious health condition that needs treatment, such as:
Period cramps are very common, but there are times when they can interfere with your day-to-day life. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ease the pain and discomfort caused by these pesky cramps.
If, however, the pain doesn’t go away after a couple of days or is so extreme that you have difficulty functioning, be sure to follow up with your doctor.