10 Ways To Alleviate Menstrual Cramps
Hi friends. Lets talk about menstrual cramps. Yeow! I am passionate about this topic because cramps are so common and so seemingly normal, yet I truly believe women don’t have to experience this pain. There is a difference between what is normal, as in common, and what is normal, as in healthy. A woman with a balanced body and cycle should NOT have painful cramps. In this article I am going to talk about simple strategies to immediately address this pain, as well as how to get rid of cramps for the long term.
An epiphany that helped me understand how to approach menstrual cramps is to realize that the uterus is actually a MUSCLE. When you have your period the uterus muscle is contracting and relaxing in order to shed its lining. “Cramps”! Approaches that work for other kinds of muscle cramps can be helpful here too. Here are my 10 general tips:
Respect this time as sacred. Take it as an opportunity to listen to your body. Lie down if you are in pain. Allow yourself to rest. Nap. Prioritize sleep.
Drink lots of water. I mean 2-3L of water per day. This is a simple, foundational component. Just do it. Seriously. I know women for whom this has truly been THE key component to resolving their cramps.
Heat. Use a hot water bottle, a dried bean heating pad, an electric blanket. Place it over your lower abdomen/pelvic region, your low back, your inner thighs, or wherever you have pain. This helps the muscles in the region release tension and reduces pain.
Switch up your menstrual products. Some people find the diva cup is helpful, others find it makes things worse. Try using pads. If you have been using one single method for years, switch it up and see what works.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps to relax tense muscles. Have an epsom salt bath (this is magnesium!). Use a topical magnesium spray or oil. One to two sprays of a good quality magnesium can provide good temporary relief.
Not only does your uterus cramp up during your period, other muscles in the area get tight too. Stretching can really help. Try child’s pose, wide-angle forward bend, reclined butterfly, and pigeon pose. Or try this free yoga class video from my favourite “Yoga with Adriene”.
If you are using a pharmaceutical pain killer, make sure you know how to dose it. For optimal pain control start dosing as soon as you start feeling pain, or even a little bit before if you know it’s coming. Don’t wait for the pain to get really bad.
Use herbal support. Herbs can work magic for period cramps, and have an immediate and noticeable effect. In particular, herbs that are considered “antispasmodic” can help relax uterine muscle cramping. There are many different options here, and each herb has its own particular character - consider working with a naturopathic doctor or herbalist to find out which herbs are right for you.
Work on your diet. Eating a lot of processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and other inflammatory foods can play a role. Inflammatory markers are increased in dysmenorrhea and painful periods (see here, here, and here for some research links). Dairy can also be a culprit for some women, which may perhaps be due to the estrogens they contain, or because of the inflammatory molecule casein. As a general rule, a whole foods vegetable-based diet is the best choice. Work with a naturopathic doctor (ND) or holistic nutritionist if you want a more specific idea of what this should look like for you.
Figure out the root cause. Pain is generally your body telling you something is wrong, and if you have severe or persistent pain you may have more than tight muscles. There are certain medical conditions that can cause severe cramps, and it is important to seek medical support to rule these out (you can see an MD or an ND). Once these have been ruled out (any women have gone down this path to no avail), consider that you may not have a diagnosable “disease” or “syndrome”, but that what you do have is a hormonal imbalance. This is very common. Many symptoms women think are just part and parcel of having a period are actually signs of hormones being out of whack. This includes pain, bloating, cyclical acne, heavy bleeding, clots, and moodiness. NDs can help you figure out what is specifically going on with your hormones. Finding the root cause, whatever it is, is probably the most important item on this list because it will be the most lasting.
Know that you are not resigned to pain when you’re on your period. So many women think they just have to bear the intense period symptoms they get every month. My main message here is that you DO have options, you CAN feel empowered to take action. I’ve even heard it said that orgasms can be helpful with cramps, although I haven’t yet found any research to back this up! Your period doesn’t have to be a curse.
And remember, your body is doing a lot of work during this time. You may need extra care and love - this doesn’t mean something is WRONG with you. In certain cultural traditions a women’s moon cycle is a time of retreat and rest. In my life I chose to treat this time as sacred. A woman menstruating is very sensitive, and this is also a powerful gift and opportunity. Listen to your body. Listen to your heart. You can learn much. And don’t be afraid to ask for support, be if from a medical professional, a body worker, or a loved one. Take care.
Disclaimer: Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. Health-related information contained in this post is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a Naturopathic or other doctor.