Most of us ladies know the unmistakable cramping sensation that takes our abdomens hostage every month. While a few lucky women feel minimal or no menstrual cramps at all, many of us feel them moderately or intensely, at least occasionally. That’s why so many of us often lean on ibuprofen to mask the pain. Unfortunately, ibuprofen won’t solve the underlying problem.
While it’s a common belief that period cramps are just a natural part of life and there’s nothing we can do to avoid them, the good news is that this isn’t necessarily true. With a little research, it’s possible to learn the real facts about cramps and how to get rid of them (or at least how to minimize them). Are you excited yet?
Whether menstrual cramps cause you crippling pain every month or they’re just a little annoying, here’s what you should know about why they happen and what you can do about them.
What Are Period Cramps and Why Do We Get Them?
While menstrual cramps may seem like a curse from the gods, there’s actually a pretty simple explanation for them. Each month, our bodies go through a variety of hormone changes that prepare us for pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, our body gets the signal to ditch its lush uterine lining (also known as the endometrium).
Since the lining won’t evict itself (it’s kind of a stubborn tenant), we have to force it out. To do this, our uterus begins to contract and relax to loosen the endometrium’s hold on the interior of the uterus. As this happens, the endometrium begins to detach and flow out of the body a little bit at a time.
It’s believed that an increase in prostaglandins (which are hormone-like substances) is most likely to blame for the pain and cramping some women experience when the uterine lining is expelled. Higher levels of prostaglandins in some women are associated with more intense menstrual pain because they can cause powerful muscle spasms in the uterus.
However, prostaglandins may not cause every instance of menstrual cramping. Unfortunately, it isn’t fully understood why some women experience more painful periods than others. Some women have painful menstrual cramps every month with no clear cause, while others may experience severe pain due to underlying medical conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, premenstrual syndrome, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis.
What Do Period Cramps Feel Like?
Whether you’re getting your monthly period for the first time or you’re one of those lucky gals who has had it for years without experiencing regular pain, you may be wondering what menstrual cramps feel like. You may imagine they feel a lot like any other muscle cramp, such as a leg cramp or a toe cramp. While the aching and stabbing sensations associated with menstrual cramps may be similar to any other muscle contraction cramp, they aren’t exactly the same. Many women think that menstrual cramps are worse than toe cramps or cramps that affect the leg muscles because they tend to last longer.
While a painful cramp in the leg, toe, or anywhere else in the body is usually short-lived, menstrual cramp pain tends to drag on and on (don’t we know it, ladies?) It’s like a cramped muscle that never ends. For some of us, the pain is debilitating and can keep us confined to our beds until it subsides.
Menstrual cramp pain typically occurs in the lower abdomen. For many women, it sets in one to three days before they start bleeding. The pain often peaks within 24 hours from when bleeding starts, then begins to dissipate after that. Some women have one or two days of painful cramping every month, while others may be in pain for most of their menstrual bleeding phase. But no matter how long you experience it, period pain is never desirable.
If you’re still not sure whether you’re experiencing menstrual cramps or something else, here are some of the telltale signs that the abdominal pain you’re feeling is a gift from good old Aunt Flow:
- Dull, continuous aching sensation in your lower abdomen
- Throbbing or stabbing pain in your lower abdomen that’s associated with your period
- Pain that radiates to your lower back (also commonly referred to as back cramps) or even your thighs
- Pain that begins up to three days prior to your period, gets worse about 24 hours after you start bleeding, then slowly subsides over the next few days
Some super lucky women also experience dizziness, nausea, headaches, and loose stools during their periods. If you experience extreme pain, bleeding, or other debilitating symptoms during your menstrual cycle, you may want to talk to a doctor about your concerns.
What Is the Medical Term for Menstrual Cramps?
Painful menstruation is referred to as dysmenorrhea in the medical community. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is most common and is the natural (though unpleasant) cramping sensation stimulated by hormone fluctuations. Though it’s not desirable, it’s nothing to be too concerned about.
Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, is an abnormal condition that causes severe menstrual pain due to an underlying health issue. Common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea include adenomyosis and endometriosis.
According to research, more than 80% of women experience dysmenorrhea. So if you turn into a ball of cramps every month, you’re in good company. Approximately 14% of women experience menstrual cramps so severely each month that they have no choice but to take time off of school or work as a result. Period pain is no joke. It can be highly disrupting and may cause some of us ladies to put our grades or livelihoods at risk. That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage it and minimize it as much as possible. Ibuprofen and other pain relievers can help, but there are other methods we can use to help us cope, including natural methods. We’ll go over those later on in this post.
Common Myths About Period Cramps
There are a lot of myths surrounding period pain. Some are harmless, while others may cause us to avoid things that could potentially lessen the severity of our pain. Here are some of the most common myths about period cramps every woman should know about.
Myth: Period Pain Is all in Your Head
Have you ever had someone tell you that your PMS symptoms are just a figment of your imagination? Unfortunately, many people believe this, including annoying older brothers and even some women who are lucky enough not to experience any discomfort associated with their monthly cycle.
If someone tries to tell you that your premenstrual symptoms (including cramping, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety) are all in your head, it’s a sign of their own obliviousness. Anyone who understands the complicated rise and fall of female hormones each month knows that they frequently cause physical symptoms that can vary from mild to extreme. Someone may think they’re insulting you by claiming your symptoms are made up, but they’re really insulting their own intelligence and showing their ignorance on a grand scale. Just ignore them because their uneducated opinions aren’t worth your time.
Myth: All Menstrual Cramps Are Due to Disease
If anyone tries to tell you period cramps only happen if you have a disease or disorder, don’t believe them. Remember that approximately 80% of women experience menstrual cramps? Some cramping is normal and nothing to be alarmed about.
The only time you should worry about your period cramps is if the pain is so severe that it inhibits your ability to live a normal life or if it’s accompanied by other severe symptoms such as excessive bleeding.
Myth: Citrus Fruits Make Cramping Worse
We’re not sure where this myth came from, but it’s completely false. Citrus fruits will not cause your period pain to get worse. In fact, citrus juice is known to help prevent pain from a cramped muscle. So if you feel like squeezing a bit of lemon into your water when you’re on your period, feel free! Don’t forget to eat bananas, too. They contain magnesium, which is important for reducing muscle cramping.
Things That Can Make Cramps Worse
There are several things that can potentially make cramps worse, so they should be avoided when you’re on your period.
- Cold drinks
- Caffeinated beverages
- Fatty, salty foods
For some women, insufficient sleep and too much stress can also cause the dreaded cramping sensation to worsen. Age can also lead to increased abdominal pain from cramps. Some women experience increased menstrual pain when perimenopause sets in. Monthly cramping can also get worse after multiple pregnancies, though many women experience the opposite.
Of course, at some point, age is your friend when it comes to monthly period cramps. Menopause is when the body undergoes changes that mark the end of the menstrual cycle. Though there are a lot of unpleasant things associated with menopause, the end of monthly bleeding and associated symptoms is a huge plus!
Is Extreme Period Pain Normal?
Primary dysmenorrhea (the common cramped muscle pain some women feel each month) is normal. Extreme period pain is not normal and is often due to an underlying cause that needs to be addressed (such as adenomyosis or endometriosis).
Adenomyosis is a condition that some women experience when their endometrial tissue grows into the wall of the uterus. While it’s normal for endometrial tissue to line the uterus, it is not meant to grow into the uterus’ muscular structure. Though adenomyosis is not life-threatening, it can have a huge impact on quality of life. The condition is associated with heavy and frequent bleeding, as well as severe menstrual cramps and bloating. Most often, adenomyosis occurs in women who have had children, as well as middle-aged women. Anyone who has had uterine surgery may be at an increased risk of the condition.
Like adenomyosis, endometriosis is a painful condition that involves the spread of endometrial tissue to areas where it doesn’t belong. With endometriosis, the tissue travels to areas outside of the uterus, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or intestines. The most common symptoms associated with endometriosis include extreme pain during menstruation or sex. Other symptoms may include pain in the rectum, lower back, pelvis, vagina, pain while defecating, infertility, and nausea or constipation.
Both of these conditions can impact your quality of life and lead to days of missed work, school, or social activities. Fortunately, we can do things to take matters into our own hands and minimize our menstrual pain so we can improve our quality of life.
From quick fixes to long-term changes, here are some things we can do today to kick period cramps out of our abdomens and out of our lives.
Home remedies provide easy and effective ways to minimize monthly menstrual pain. Some of our favorite home remedies include:
- Hertime: One of our absolute favorite remedies is our all-natural, hormone-regulating supplement, Hertime. You can find relief from things like fluid retention, sugar cravings, pain and inflammation, and many other things throughout the whole month. Your body will also receive hormone support to better produce the hormones it already naturally releases. The best part is that you get all these benefits in a drink that tastes great.
- Herbs: Some herbs are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits and may reduce menstrual pain. They include chamomile tea, ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, turmeric root, dill, and fennel. An easy and soothing way to consume these herbs is to drink them in tea.
- Massage with essential oils: Try this incredibly relaxing home remedy for cramps, and you’ll be hooked. Massaging the abdomen gently can improve blood flow to the area, which can help relax your cramping muscles. To maximize the benefits of your massage, use essential oils. Some oils are known to provide pain relief, including lavender, clove, marjoram, sage, rose, and cinnamon. Be sure only to use safe amounts (1-2 drops) of each oil and to dilute them with a carrier oil (such as coconut or jojoba oil) before applying them to your skin.
- TENS machine: A TENS machine is an electrical machine that sends electrical impulses into the muscles. While this may sound painful, it’s not. If you purchase a simple TENS unit, you have control over how intense the electrical impulses are. Research shows that a TENS machine may reduce the pain signals that reach the brain, which is definitely a plus when you’re cramping hard.
- CBD oil: Cannabidiol is a powerful anti-inflammatory found in marijuana. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t get you high because it’s the non-psychoactive part of the plant. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done, but anecdotal evidence suggests CBD oil can minimize period pain.
These are just a few of the at-home fixes to try the next time you’re curled up in pain from your period.
Let’s face it, ladies. Sometimes we need a really quick pain relief fix for our period cramping. When we’re in a bind and focused on getting rid of cramps quickly, here are a few things we can try:
- NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen or aspirin): These OTC drugs are anti-inflammatory, which means they can help temporarily reduce pain. However, when our body is sending us a pain signal, it’s the body’s way of communicating that something is wrong. Occasionally we need that bandaid until we can really treat the problem and keep it from returning. However, it’s important to take them only as directed, as too much ibuprofen or aspirin can be detrimental to your health. That’s why it’s best to focus on long-term solutions (listed below!) that will get rid of your pain for good.
- Heating pad: If you’ve never pressed a heating pad against your aching abdomen when you’re experiencing menstrual cramps, you’re missing out. A heated patch or wrap can boost circulation to your abdomen while simultaneously relaxing your uterus muscles. One study shows that using a heat wrap is even more effective for relieving menstrual cramps than taking pain relievers!
- Warm bath: A warm bath is relaxing no matter what physical state you’re in, but it’s especially comforting when you’re experiencing period cramps. The warmth from the water works the same way a heating pad does and helps relax your cramping muscles so you can experience some relief. For even more relaxing benefits, try adding Epsom salt to your bathwater. The magnesium in the salt helps to reduce cramping. Magnesium is also an important mineral for our blood vessel walls.
If you’ve been wondering how to get rid of cramps, these are the most common quick-fixes. They can bring almost immediate relief from at least some of the symptoms we women experience every month.
While short-term fixes are nice, wouldn’t it be even better if you could implement long-term changes that would help you avoid getting cramps in the first place? Well, ladies, you can. Here are some of the top lifestyle changes that can result in less painful periods and improved quality of life.
- Nutritional supplements: Certain vitamins and minerals are very good for reducing period pain. They include fish oil, B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium. Additionally, nutritional supplements such as Hertime Daily combine natural micronutrients that are known to balance and correct female hormones. Since hormone imbalance may be to blame for cramping and other PMS symptoms, taking such supplements regularly may help minimize your monthly pain while helping you feel better overall. Drinking just one packet of Hertime every day is a quick and easy way to actually fix the underlying culprit of your period pain.
- Good sleep: Did you know insomnia can increase your risk of dysmenorrhea? Sufficient sleep can reduce menstrual pain, so try to get at least six to eight hours of shuteye every night.
- Proper hydration: Our bodies need water to function properly. When we become dehydrated, our muscles are more prone to cramping. For this reason and others, we should aim to get at least six to eight glasses of water per day, especially during the menstrual phase of our cycle.
- Yoga: Exercise in all its forms is a great way to boost overall health and reduce menstrual cramps. Yoga is one practice that has been shown to cause significant reductions in period pain for women who participated in yoga classes for 12 weeks. Yoga poses also involve stretching, which can ease menstrual pain by helping the abdominal muscles lengthen and relax.
The truth is, cramps can be annoying, but they don’t have to be “just a fact of life.” These home remedies, quick-fix solutions, and long-term lifestyle changes can help us reduce our period pain. Balancing our hormones is a great place to start. Hertime Daily is an ally we want to have in our corner. Just one serving daily can help ease cramps, reduce menstrual flow, minimize bloating, and increase energy. It’s a solution that works for women of all ages and menstrual stages.