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Certain over-the-counter products and home remedies, like using a heating pad, may help relieve pain associated with period cramps. Avoiding certain foods may also help.
It’s common to feel discomfort around your abdomen, lower back, and thighs when you’re menstruating.
During your period, the muscles of your womb contract and relax to help shed built-up lining. Sometimes you’ll experience cramps, which means your muscles are at work. Some people may also experience:
Doctors are not sure why some people who menstruate experience painful symptoms and others don’t. Some factors associated with more intense pain include:
- having a heavy menstrual flow
- having your first child
- being under the age of 20 or just starting your period
- having an overproduction of or sensitivity to prostaglandins, a type of compound in the body that influences your womb
Other factors include:
- growths in your uterus
- endometriosis (abnormal uterine tissue growth)
- use of birth control
For mild to temporary cramps, some home remedies can help provide relief. Read on for tips on getting fast relief, and learn how to potentially lessen the pain during your next cycle.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the primary over-the-counter (OTC) form of pain relief recommended for menstrual pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
These drugs help lower your body’s production of prostaglandin. NSAIDs are not as effective as oral contraception at lowering prostaglandin, but they can help reduce pain.
Applying heat to your abdomen and lower back may relieve pain. A
If you don’t have a hot-water bottle or heating pad, take a warm bath or use a hot towel. Or, you can make your own heating pad:
- Cut and sew together two pieces of fabric, leaving a hole at the top.
- Fill with uncooked rice and sew up the hole.
- Microwave for a few minutes to the desired temperature. Don’t overheat!
- Let cool, if necessary. Or, wrap your homemade pad in a towel to reduce heat transfer. Reuse as necessary.
Learn more about the best heating pads here. You can also purchase a heating pad online.
Massage therapy for about 20 minutes can help.
Massage therapy for menstruation involves pressing specific points while the therapist’s hands move around your abdomen, side, and back.
Adding essential oils for an aromatherapy style of massage may have additional benefits.
You can buy a scented massage oil with similar ingredients or make your own.
You should always dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil. Examples include vegetable or nut oils, such as grapeseed or sweet almond oil. A safe concentration is one drop of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil.
While there are no clinical studies on the direct effect of orgasms on menstrual cramps, science suggests it may help.
Vaginal orgasms involve your whole body, including your spinal cord, which signals the release of neurotransmitters. A vaginal orgasm can trigger your brain to release neurotransmitters such as endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins can decrease pain perception.
Dr. Barry Komisaruk, a psychology professor at Rutgers University who studies the female orgasm, told the BBC in 2015, “Vaginal orgasms [are described] as being internal and involving the whole-body; that’s probably because the nerves that carry sensations from the clitoris are different from the nerves from the vagina.”
During menstruation, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that cause bloating and water retention. Some of the biggest culprits include:
- fatty foods
- carbonated beverages
- salty foods
Reducing or cutting out these foods can help alleviate cramps and decrease tension. Try soothing (caffeine-free) ginger or mint teas or hot water flavored with lemon instead. If you need a sugar fix, snack on fruits such as strawberries or raspberries.
These herbal remedies contain anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic compounds that can reduce the muscle contractions and swelling associated with menstrual pain.
|Herb or supplement||Dosage||Does it work?|
|chamomile tea||Sip two cups of tea per day a week before your period. You may benefit more if you drink it every month.||A 2012 review of studies reports chamomile tea |
|fennel seeds||When your period starts, take 30 mg of fennel extract four times a day for three days.||A 2012 study looked at girls and women 15 to 24 years old. The group that took the extract reported feeling relief. The placebo group reported none.|
|cinnamon||Take 840 mg of cinnamon capsules three times a day during the first three days of your period.||In 2015, women who took cinnamon capsules in a study reported less bleeding, pain, nausea, and vomiting compared to the placebo group.|
|ginger||Try grating a small piece of ginger into hot water for a warm cramp-relieving drink.||One study of university students found that 250 mg of ginger powder four times a day for three days helped with pain relief. It also concluded ginger was as effective as ibuprofen.|
|French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol)||Take 60 mg of French maritime pine bark extract per day during your cycle. This can help with more moderate menstrual pain.||A 2008 |
|dill||Try 1,000 mg of dill for five days, starting two days before your cycle.||A 2014 |
Relief for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
Curcumin, a natural chemical in turmeric, may help with symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). A 2015 study looked at 70 women who took two capsules of curcumin for 7 days before their period and 3 days after. Participants reported significant reduction in PMS symptoms.
If you want to give curcumin a try, check out this recipe for turmeric tea by In Jennie’s Kitchen. Curcumin supplements are also available online.
Always make sure you’re buying herbs and supplements from a reputable source, as they are not regulated. While most of these herbal remedies have few side effects, check with your doctor before trying them.
Some herbs may also cause unintended side effects, especially if you’re taking medication. Most of these herbs and supplements also do not include specific instructions for menstrual periods. Your doctor may have more information on dosage recommendations.
Maintaining a healthy diet and keeping up a regular exercise regimen can go a long way toward preventing menstrual pain. A
Read on for specific diet and exercise tips.
Generally, a diet geared toward decreasing menstrual pain should be high in minimally processed foods, fiber, and plants.
Give these foods a try:
- Papaya is rich in vitamins.
- Brown rice contains vitamin B6, which may reduce bloating.
- Walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds are rich in manganese, which eases cramps.
- Olive oil and broccoli contain vitamin E.
- Chicken, fish, and leafy green vegetables contain iron, which is lost during menstruation.
- Flaxseed contains omega-3s with antioxidant properties, which reduce swelling and inflammation.
Boron is a mineral that helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus. It also reduces menstrual cramps.
A 2015 study that looked at 113 university students found that boron reduced the intensity and length of menstrual pain.
Foods with high concentration of boron include:
You can also take boron supplements if your diet doesn’t provide enough. However, you should consult your doctor before taking boron supplements. Discover how boron helps brains and bones, too.
It sounds odd, but drinking water keeps your body from retaining water and helps to avoid painful bloating during menstruation. Warm or hot water is usually better for cramps, as hot liquids increase blood flow to your skin and may relax cramped muscles.
You can also increase your hydration by eating water-based foods, including:
- berries, including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
This mineral can help reduce muscle cramping during menstruation. Foods high in calcium include:
- dairy products
- sesame seeds
- leafy green vegetables
Calcium is also available in supplement form. Speak with your doctor before taking supplements to find out if it’s safe for you.
The idea of exercising immediately before or during your period may not appeal to you, but exercise releases endorphins.
Research suggests exercise is effective at reducing menstrual pain to the extent it may also eliminate or reduce the need for pain-relief medication.
Moderate activity such as walking can be beneficial during your period in place of more strenuous activity.
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4 Yoga Poses to Relieve Cramps
Yoga is a gentle exercise that releases endorphins and can help prevent or reduce menstrual symptoms.
- Cat-Cow pose
- Child’s pose
- Plank pose
- Cobra pose
You should contact your doctor if you have severe pain and very heavy bleeding. See a doctor if:
- the pain consistently prevents you from doing day-to-day activities
- the pain worsens or bleeding gets heavier over time
- you’re over 25 and severe cramps are a new development
- OTC medication doesn’t work
For severe cases, the best way to get treatment is for a doctor to diagnose the cause of your menstrual pain.