Menstrual cramps are throbbing, aching cramps you get in your lower belly just before and during your period. They’re some of the most common, annoying parts of your period. They can strike right before or during that time of the month. Many women get them routinely.
Cramps can range from mild to severe. They usually happen for the first time a year or two after a girl first gets their period. With age, they usually become less painful and may stop entirely after you have your first baby.
Your doctor may call your cramps dysmenorrhea.
Menstrual Cramp Symptoms
You may have:
- Aching pain in your belly (sometimes severe)
- A feeling of pressure in your belly
- Pain in your hips, lower back, and inner thighs
When cramps are severe, symptoms may include:
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools
Do not take aspirin if you are younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Here are 10 ways you can deal with cramps, or probably have the pains reduced.
1. Try Some Yoga Poses to Ease Menstrual Cramps
Whether it’s the stretching of your muscles or the relaxing effect of the poses, a regular yoga practice can indeed help your cramps.
When 20 undergraduate students did an hour-long yoga program once a week for three months, they had less menstrual cramping and period distress than 20 women who didn’t, according to researchers for a study published in September 2016 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
The Journal of Physiotherapy review that sanctioned heating pads also found benefits for yoga.
You can practice during your period or between them, but some instructors advise women against doing inverted poses (like a shoulder stand) in the midst of menstruation, so as not interfere with your natural flow.
2. Curl Up With a Heating Pad to Ease Period Cramps
“The uterus is a muscle, so anything that helps relax muscles, like applying heat, can be beneficial, Thielen says.
Indeed, research published in Evidence-Based Nursing found that topically applied heat was just as effective as ibuprofen for period cramps. Over the two study days, the women used heat alone, heat plus ibuprofen, ibuprofen alone, or a placebo. The best results were in the heat plus ibuprofen group; adding heat led to faster improvements.
A review published in March 2014 in The Journal of Physiotherapy also found that heat significantly lessened a woman’s period pain.
3. Pop a Safe Painkiller to Cut the Inflammation
Moderate use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) is one of the best ways to curb period pain, Thielen says. This is because NSAIDs reduce the number of prostaglandins in the body. For this reason, taking a pill just before you get your period can keep the level of pain-causing prostaglandins from rising, she says.
As with any medicine, you should first check with your doctor to be sure NSAIDs are a good choice for you, especially if you have a history of bleeding or stomach or kidney issues.
If the NSAIDs you buy in the store don’t offer enough relief, your doctor might prescribe an NSAID with more potency. Some women need up to 800 milligrams three times a day for cramps. You’d have to take a lot of over-the-counter pills to equal that.
4. Acupuncture May Help by Relaxing the Nervous System
Acupuncture can help relieve cramps, says Jeannie Bianchi, a licensed acupuncturist in San Francisco. This ancient Asian healing method is thought to relax the nervous system, allow more blood to flow to internal organs, and quell inflammation, Bianchi says.
In a review published in April 2016 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews experts looked at 42 studies that observed the effects of acupuncture on period cramps. Each compared acupuncture with no treatment, conventional treatment (such as anti-inflammatory drugs), or a sham acupuncture procedure. Many of the studies found that the acupuncture group had less period pain and no side effects. The researchers emphasize, however, that the quality of all of the studies was poor.
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5. Some Herbal Tea Varieties Can Calm Cramping
Certain teas may help relieve menstrual cramps, says Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the San Francisco Bay area.
Research on herbal teas for menstrual pain relief is scarce, but teas have been used by menstruating women in numerous cultures for centuries.
Chamomile and peppermint teas are often recommended for menstrual pain because they are calming to the body. Other teas associated with dysmenorrhea are those made from cramp bark, ginger, or fennel.
6. Up the Magnesium in Your Diet
Dietary magnesium seems to help ease the pain of cramps, says DeJarra Sims, ND, a faculty member at Bastyr University in San Diego and the author of Your Healthiest Life Now.
Magnesium is found in many foods, including almonds, black beans, spinach, yogurt, and peanut butter.
If you want to take a magnesium supplement, Dr. Sims suggests speaking with your doctor, since the dose you need depends on the severity of your cramps along with other factors.
7. Massage With Essential Oils for Pain Relief
Massaging your skin with certain aromatic essential oils can relieve menstrual cramp pain, according to research published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. Investigators asked 48 women with menstrual cramps and other symptoms to massage either essential oils or a synthetic fragrance into their lower abdomen between periods.
Women in both groups reported less pain, but the essential oils group did better. Based on the women’s reports, researchers found that the duration of pain was reduced by almost a half a day after self-massaging with the essential oils.
Some oils thought to be helpful include lavender essential oil, clary sage essential oil, and marjoram essential oil.
Just be sure you’re using essential oils safely. Buy high-quality oils that are tested for purity. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy suggests diluting pure essential oils in an unscented cream, lotion, or carrier oil before placing it on your skin to avoid irritation.
8. Boost Those Feel-Good Endorphins with Exercise (or Orgasm)
The body’s natural endorphins are known to boost your mood. But they also have a pain-relieving effect. A well-known way to boost endorphins is aerobic exercise. Having an orgasm is another.
A study published in March 2015 in the Journal of Family & Reproductive Health, found that, in 100 women, either stretching exercises or aerobic exercises done three times a week for two months reduced cramping.
9. Improving Your Diet May Alleviate Period Cramps
When researchers put 33 women with dysmenorrhea on a low-fat vegetarian diet, they found it eased their cramps, according to research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Start by swapping out less healthy fats like the saturated fats found in animal products for healthier ones like unsaturated fats found in olive oil, suggests the American Heart Association. Overall, try to make the fats you eat better quality, such as those found in fish or nuts, the organization suggests. Examples of meals not overly reliant on fats can be found in the healthy eating plate guide from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
10. Birth Control Pills May Lessen Severe Cramps, Too
While not exactly a home remedy, birth control pills and hormonal intrauterine devices are potential tools in your anti cramping arsenal and should not be overlooked.
Consider cramp relief a benefit to some types of contraception. Many women find relief from painful cramps when they start the pill. Hormonal birth control typically lessens the amount of bleeding, and less bleeding can translate into fewer cramps.