Period cramps are muscle aches and muscular pains that are experienced during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Their medical name is dysmenorrhea, an uncomfortable word for an uncomfortable and often very painful medical condition. The cramps are the result of uterus contractions, which occur as the uterus sheds its lining every month.
The pain is usually felt across the lower abdomen, the back, and the lower areas of the center of the body, and in some cases they can be very severe pains that notably disable a woman’s daily life.
Symptoms of period cramps can include nausea, headaches, tiredness, irregular vaginal bleeding, and also a feeling of bloating across the gut.
Even if your cramps are mild, it is wise to do all you can to alleviate them or lower the risk of experiencing them.
Reasons why period cramps occur
In a sense, the cramps come from a normal natural process, which is that the uterus sheds its lining on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, this process often involves it contracting and those contractions can be painful.
Another factor is that during your period, the body produces notably higher levels of prostaglandins, which are hormones that can cause your uterine muscles to contract more significantly, often with quite a high degree of intensity.
As with any moment when parts of the body are undergoing quite a significant process, there are effects on other areas of the body too, hence why it is that a woman often has cramps during her period.
How to prevent period cramps
There are things that you can do to prevent, or at least lessen the possibility of, period cramps. As with many areas of our bodies, the body is itself part of the solution to its own problems.
Exercise is an all round good thing. And it also helps lower the probability of period cramps.
There is significant evidence that regular, low intensity exercise can make a huge difference when it comes to managing period cramps. Even something as simple as a brisk walk, a light jog, or a gentle yoga session can all help to ease cramping and pain. If you are able to exercise more extensively, then that is also good, but to make an impact on your period cramps you do not actually need to exercise unduly hard.
Eat a balanced diet
Diet makes such a difference. Eating well unquestionably has a positive impact on how your body copes during your menstrual cycle.
If you focus on enjoying a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with plenty of healthy fats too, your body will respond. The operations of your body become easier, as it is not having to work so hard to generate its own health. Good foods provide minerals, vitamins, and nutrition in ways that mean that, when the menstrual cycle is operating, you have the resources to deal with the stress a period places on your body.
A good diet also helps regulate your hormones, which can help lessen cramps too, so do pay attention to what you are eating – at all times of the month. Over time, it will make a major difference.
As with diet, so with what you drink. Hydrate well and you make it less likely that your body will be stressed during your period. If possible, aim for warm drinks, as these are better at offering some soothing, but the critical thing is to drink, regardless of the heat of the drink. Water is the ultimate, perhaps with a bit of lemon, but fruit teas, mint teas, camomile teas, and many kinds of herbal or fruit infusions can also be drunk at ease. Turmeric, too, is a useful ingredient to have in your repertoire of supportive beverages.
Get adequate sleep
Ensuring effective and sufficient sleep is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate period cramps. Try to ensure a regular nighttime routine, so that the body gets into a natural rhythm when it comes to rest. Not only will this help you fall asleep easier, it will also help you ensure a more restful, restorative sleep.
Avoid drinking caffeine much after 2.00 p.m. as it takes over 8 hours for the effects of caffeine drinks to leave the body. Make sure, too, to avoid screen time as you hit the mattress. The body is agitated by the light from laptops and mobiles, so make sure to give the eyes and mind a pause before you bed down.
Try heat therapy
Heat can often be a healer when it comes to period cramps.
A hot water bottle or heating pad applied directly to your lower abdomen can help to relax cramped muscles. At work, heating pads can be the best solution, and some of them are now designed to be used subtly. In addition, taking a warm bath or sauna can be highly beneficial, as can a steam session at the gym.
You can also try adding ginger, turmeric, and garlic to your diet, as they are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Manuka honey is also a great anti-inflammatory agent, so add it to your diet on toast or cereals. These too can have a similar effect to heat, as they can reduce tension and feelings of swelling.
Take pain relievers
Don’t be afraid to take anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. It has a very high success rate and is a very simple way to ease your stress. Naproxen is another very good drug to take, but make sure to take these drugs after food, as they can make you feel a bit nauseous if taken on an empty stomach.
Also ensure you follow the right dosage and, if you have any doubts, follow the pharmacist’s advice.
Natural Remedies for Period Cramps
Drinks that help
The following drinks are ones to have in mind as you decide what to drink to tackle your period cramps.
- Herbal teas, such as camomile, lavender, rosehip, pomegranate
- A turmeric and ginger infusion
- All honey drinks are great to use. You can add a spoonful of honey to any drink you like and it will help with how you feel. If you can use Manuka honey, great. But it does not need to be Manuka. All honeys have healing and relaxant qualities that will aid your period cramps.
Use essential oils
Essential oils are concentrated extracts from plants that are believed to have medicinal properties. Many people have found them extremely useful in dealing with the body, and with cramps. By diffusing them in your environment, or applying them to the skin, they can be used to help reduce the discomfort of period cramps. In addition, their scent is a highly effective relaxant and de-stressing agent. There is nothing to be lost by trying them out. Popular options include lavender, clary sage, and peppermint.
Try yoga and relaxation techniques
It is essential to respect the body and to do what you can to find some space in your life for a stretching and relaxing spell of yoga, or some associated physical approach to relaxing the body.
Yoga poses and stretching help to release tension in the muscles and reduce cramping. It also helps to improve circulation and provides relief from discomfort. In addition, deep breathing exercises and meditation can help to relax the mind and body, which in turn can reduce the intensity of any cramps you are unfortunate enough still to have during your periods.
Massage your abdomen
As with heat, so with massage. The light warm pressure that massaging brings enables the tension in the body to be diluted. Start with light strokes towards the center of your abdomen, and then gradually apply pressure as you see fit for how your body feels. You can also use a warm compress or heating pad if that assists. Some people prefer to use a bit of heat from a warm compress prior to the massage, as it helps to loosen up the skin and make it receptive to the massage itself.
Be aware also to remember that your lower back is also worth paying attention to, so aim to massage it also, even though it can be trickier to reach.
Eat foods rich in magnesium and calcium
Along with the overall benefits of a good diet, rich in nutrients, research has shown that magnesium and calcium can help relax muscles, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain.
Both of these minerals have the ability in our bodies to act almost as natural painkillers and they can directly affect the organs that play a role in periods, such as your uterus, your ovaries, and your fallopian tubes.
Excellent sources of magnesium and calcium are dark leafy greens, dairy products, and some fish and nuts, such as almonds. Eating these foods regularly, and certainly around the time of your period, will help you to deal with the pain of any cramps.
When to See a Doctor
If your cramps are intense
We all obviously hope we do not suffer from serious or intense cramps, but if you are unlucky enough to have a really bad dose of cramps, do not be afraid to speak to a doctor or nurse to get their advice, especially if the pain is prolonged or excessive.
If they become more frequent
Very importantly, if your period cramps are increasing in frequency, talk to a doctor without undue delay. That sort of condition could be a sign of something more serious and it needs to be checked. Though it remains unlikely, there may be an underlying medical cause, such as endometriosis or fibroids. Or, of course, it may just be that your body is changing and your hormones are fluctuating. Either way, it’s important to check in with your doctor to make sure everything is alright and that there is no further significant concern.
Never be embarrassed by your cramps. They are a natural effect of a key bodily process. But do not be shy either about seeking help or adapting your behaviors to respond to the needs of your body and to limit the pains cramps bring. With attention, monitoring and care, you can make a difference to yourself.