Menstrual cramps! Ugh! The mere thought of an impending period always sends shivers down your spine, because you know too well the excruciating pains and misery that lie ahead. It’s so bad you have to clear your schedule and forfeit important activities just so you can curl up in bed to writhe and scream the day(s) away.
If this is your story, you are not alone. A lot of women are faced with this problem, so much so that laws actually exist in some Asian countries for working women to take menstrual leave, with full pay! Every working woman’s dream.
Why are periods so painful?
Understanding what causes menstrual cramps helps in finding effective remedy for the pain.
If period pain or dysmenorrhoea as it is medically called, is a normal part of the menstrual cycle, it is referred to as primary dysmenorrhoea. In this case, it is caused by the vigorous contraction of the muscles of the uterine wall as it sheds its lining. This contraction triggers the release of pain-inducing hormones as well as prostaglandins. The prostaglandins induce even more contractions, causing severe pain. The higher the amount of prostaglandins released, the greater the pain.
On the other hand, if period pain is caused by underlying medical conditions like fibroid, sexually transmitted infections, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, etc; it’s referred to as secondary dysmenorrhoea.
Effective Steps in dealing with menstrual cramps
- Pain relievers: Safe over the counter pain killers such as Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs(NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, are effective at blocking the contractions that cause pain. They are more effective when taken a few days before the period starts; otherwise, they may not have much effect when taken after the period has already started.
Note that aspirin is not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, or anyone under the age of 16.
- Birth control pills: When over-the-counter pain relievers are not effective, your doctor may suggest birth control pills a better option. The combined oral contraceptive pill can decrease the amount of prostaglandins released, which will in turn reduce contractions and pain. They also reduce the flow and length of menstrual periods.
2. Natural methods
- Get active: This is definitely the last thing on your mind; but being active can help alleviate your period pain. Exercise is known to release endorphins or the ‘feel-good’ hormone, which counter the effect of the prostaglandins. Engaging in brisk walking, yoga, massage, swimming, pelvic rock, stretching or other types of exercises will surely make a difference. Endorphins are also released during sex. So if you can handle having sex while on your period, having orgasms can also help reduce period pain.
- Apply heat: Soothing those throbbing muscles of the uterus with heat, can help reduce pain. A warm shower, warm compress, hot water bottle or a heat pad applied to the lower abdomen, will make you feel better. Heat pads are sold over the counter in pharmacies, or you can make yours by filling up an old sock with raw rice or raw beans and heating it up in the microwave.
- Grab a cuppa: A warm cup of tea has never been more appealing than now you have period pain. Ginger, chamomile, and raspberry teas are said to be the wonder beverages in alleviating menstrual cramps due to their pain-relieving properties. Ginger is a known natural anti-inflammatory that helps reduce pain and inflammation. Chamomile has been used since ancient times for pain relief, while raspberry leaf tea has been used by women to treat period pain, heavy periods, and even to ease labour pain.
- A banana a day, keeps the pain away: Banana is naturally high in potassium, and potassium is known to relieve painful muscle contractions. No wonder it’s a popular food among people suffering from arthritis, neck pain, headaches, and other kinds of body ache.
- Apply pressure: Acupuncture/Acupressure has been shown by a research to provide pain relief . Another way of applying pressure to the abdomen is by lie with your tummy on a hard surface such as a hardcover book, table, floor, etc. Also lying or crouching with your knees bent into the chest, may provide some relief.
- Vitamins: Vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium supplements may be useful in easing pain, as well as vitamin D, which Studies have shown may play a part in reducing menstrual cramps.