If you experience dysmenorrhea (dys meaning “painful” or “difficult” and rrhea meaning “a flow”), you are not alone, An astounding 8 in 10 women experience period pain at some point in their lifetime.
Personally, I have experienced period cramping and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that have disrupted my day-to-day life and significantly impacted my ability to be both productive and social. Period cramping and back pain associated with PMS constipation have impacted my sleep and my ability to walk straight, sit in a chair for long periods and concentrate on work tasks. The pain has been so severe that I have had to take sick days on the first day of my period. Sadly, what I experience during my period is not even the worst of the worst as I know of women who have had to take prescription muscle relaxers and even be admitted to hospital due to severe cramping.
I once thought the only way to manage my period pains was to stay heavily medicated for the 36-48 hour window that represented the most painful days of my period. Thankfully, trail and error has proven me wrong as I have found ways to manage my pain with only slight shocks to my productivity. Please note, however, that what has worked for me may not work for you. If your pain seems severe and none of these methods work for you, please consult your doctor or a trusted healthcare practitioner to rule out more serious underlying health issues.
Exercising throughout your menstrual cycle helps to counteract cramping for various reasons:
- Exercise helps to relieve stress, including the stress hormones that manage the menstrual cycle.
- Exercising during your period releases endorphins that help with period cramps.
- A stronger core (abdominal muscles) helps with back pain overall.
- Exercise can aid in constipation relief thus relieving constipation-related period pain.
2. Drink more water.
I know you must be tired of hearing, “Drink more water!” But really…DRINK MORE WATER! During the menstrual cycle, our cells retain more fluid than usual causing us to bloat. The bloated feeling typically makes one want to avoid drinking liquids in fear of enhancing the bloat, however, water is essential for our bodily functions. Once menstruation starts, your body will need all the help it can get to expel the tide of hormones that have accumulated. Warm or hot water is usually best. Try drinking unsweetened teas like mint, green tea and chamomile.
3. Regulate your body temperature.
Our body’s heat-control mechanism is influenced by our hormones. Though many women have a stable heat-control or homeostatic mechanism, some women have difficulty coping with cold or heat during their periods and during menopause. I am particularly sensitive to temperature changes and was even told by an allergist that I am “allergic to hot and cold temperatures”. One moment I want the car air conditioning on, the other minute I’m turning it off or I’m closing the vents. This method works fine in my own car or home, but what about work where I do not control the temperature setting? Here are a few methods that work for me:
- Drinking tea or simply wrapping my palms around the hot mug.
- Bringing a small blanket to work to cover my legs.
- Going for brief walks in the sunshine.
At work, the issue is normally trying to get warm. When I am trying to get cool I either stay indoors, drink cold water or frozen drinks or go for a swim.
4. Avoid salty foods (and sweets).
High-sodium foods cause you to retain fluids which impacts your bloating. This paired with low water intake can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can lead to abdominal pain, joint pains and headaches.
Sugar, on the other hand, should be avoided because it is inflammatory and may increase cramping.
5. Say no to chocolate.
This includes chocolate bars, chocolate cake and hot chocolate. Now, I don’t know the science here, but I do know that eating chocolate makes my cramps worse almost instantly. This may be due to the high sugar content as I am able to eat pure cacao (an ingredient in chocolate) without issues.
6. Opt for non-synthetic pads and tampons.
After researching the synthetic chemicals used in typical pads and tampons, I was overwhelmingly compelled to switch to more natural products. Though the changes were not significant in terms of cramp alleviation, I did notice a reduction in pain.
The pads and liners I use are from a brand called This is L. Inc. You may view or purchase their products here. The brand and natural pads in general are not readily available in the Bahamas so I grab a bag every time I’m in the US or Canada.
7. Change your pad or tampon often.
I know it’s not always feasible, but it is a good idea to change your pad or every 3 to 4 hours. Not only is this good hygiene as it helps with odors and leaks, but it also decreases the chances of bacteria build up and can prevent “pad rash” and Toxic Shock Syndrome.
In addition, changing your pad can help you feel more fresh and comfortable. During the first 2 days of my period, I often observe blood clots. This is normal as during menstruation the think lining of your uterus breaks away. Pads cannot adsorb blood clots and therefore they rest on the surface of the pad. I don’t know if its psychological or not, but when I change my pad after passing clots I feel more comfortable and have less pain in that region. Though changing your pad regularly may or may not have an impact on the pain you experience, it can make you feel more comfortable and who doesn’t want a little bit of comfort when it feels like their womb is punching them from the inside?
8. Wear comfortable clothing and underwear.
Avoid clothing that is tight on the waist, e.g. tight jeans and tight skirts. Again, this may not directly impact your cramps and period pain, but loose fitting clothing will help you feel more comfortable. And remember, being comfortable doesn’t mean you have to look frumpy — particularly around the office. At home sweatpants and all-day pajamas are more than okay, but in the office opt for swing dresses, slacks and anything office-appropriate that is not constricting. I normally opt for dark skirts with an elastic waist like the picture below.
9. Drink fresh juice and smoothies.
Fresh juices and smoothies have proven to be a game changer for me during my period! Not only is fresh juice incredibly good for you, but it also helps to keep you regular and regular means no constipation and no constipation means no constipation-related pain. (Can I get come confetti or what?)
Drinking fresh juice 1-2 days before your period and during the first 2 days of menstruation, can have a similar effect for you. Celery juice and beet juice are particularly helpful, but I also drink carrot juice and really anything that can be juiced. (My husband and I received a juicer as a wedding gift. Similar available on Amazon here.)
For celery juice, I simply cut and wash a full stalk of celery and juice for one glass. For beet juice, I peel about 3 large beets, cut in slices then juice.
Since I strongly crave chocolates and sweets during my period, I opt for a ice-cream like smoothie: frozen bananas (about 2), cacao nibs (about a table spoon full), cocoa powder (about a teaspoon full) and almond milk.
10. Try ThermaCare Heatwraps.
Ladies, I have literally saved the best for last. Before I discovered these, I relied on pain killers, hot baths and day-long naps to get me through my period. I literally could not make it though an entire work day without being medicated until I tried ThermaCare heating pads.
My husband can testify that this invention has changed my life. I spent one night of our honeymoon on the hotel floor crying in pain as cramps tore my abdomen apart. The next day, I struggled my way to the pharmacy desk and begged for help (no, literally). The pharmacist recommended ThermaCare Heatwraps to me and voila, my life has changed!
I typically use the wraps specifically for back pain and wear them to the front and back throughout the day and night as my pain dictates. Recently, I tried the wraps specifically for menstrual cramps. Though they were helpful, I was a bit disappointed as they did not get as warm nor cover enough surface area for my needs. They were, however, discrete and perfect to wear under my clothing.
ThermaCare Heatwraps are available at your local pharmacy (yes, even in the Bahamas) and online. I pick them up in Walmart or CVS when I travel, but have also found them in Lowes and various smaller pharmacies in Nassau. I typically buy S-M, but I have bought L-XL by mistake with no issues (I just wrap it tighter or tie it to fit).
Hopefully these tips help you to manage your period pain naturally. I know it is so easy to pop a pill and be done, but why surge the body with additional chemicals when alternatives exist?
- Daily vitamins
- Evening Primrose Oil supplements
- Relaxation, prayer and meditation
What methods do you use to combat period pain? Let me know in the comments below.