Cramps are not unusual in the world of women’s health, as more than one half of women who menstruate have some pain for 1–2 days each month.
Cramps are caused by the muscle cells in the myometrium responding to hormones called prostaglandins. The muscles are working to expel the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, which results in bleeding. According to ACOG, “Pain usually occurs right before menstruation starts, as the level of prostaglandins increases in the lining of the uterus. On the first day of the menstrual period, the levels are high. As menstruation continues and the lining of the uterus is shed, the levels decrease. Pain usually decreases as the levels of prostaglandins decrease.”
So, while menstrual cramps can be uncomfortable and even painful, they happen for a reason, and can be a message about what’s happening in your body.
Here are 10 tips for combating menstrual cramps:
- Take over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). These medications work directly on the uterine muscles to relax it and reduce inflammation. Always follow the instructions on the bottle and consult your doctor if you have a history of allergies or asthma.
- Use a heating pad. Apply the heating back to your lower abdomen or back and take time to relax by laying on your side or back.
- Exercise. We get it — the last thing you feel like doing when you’re cramped and bloated is go for a jog. But exercise produces endorphins, which help with pain relief and to burn the prostaglandins much faster.
- Take a warm bath. Getting in the tub during your period may not be your first course of action, but it can certainly help with cramps!
- Have sex. Orgasms have the same effect on prostaglandins as exercise.
- Drink lots of water. Dehydration can intensify your cramps.
- Ignore your cravings. If your cycle has you craving potato chips and donuts for lunch, do your best to ignore it. Some women find that eating anti-inflammatory foods, like cherries, blueberries, squash, tomatoes, almonds, dark leafy greens, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and bell peppers help.
- Drink chamomile tea. Chamomile is full of anti-inflammatory substances to help inhibit prostaglandins. (While you’re at it, draw yourself a bath and enjoy your cup of chamomile tea while soaking in some bubbles!)
- Skip the caffeine and alcohol. These dehydrating liquids can make your period cramps worse.
- Get a massage or give yourself one. Massaging the stomach with soothing lotions and essential oils and relieve tension.
Keep in mind that while menstrual cramps are normal, prolonged and painful cramping that cannot be alleviated may be an indication of a more serious health issue, such as:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Ectopic Pregnancy
- Ruptured Ovarian Cyst
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
It is important that you meet with your provider if you are concerned about the frequency and severity of your cramps to find the cause and solution.