If you’re one of the many people who dread their monthly cycle because of the pain and discomfort it brings, you’re not alone. Period cramps are a common problem that may affect up to 95% of menstruating people at some point in their lives.
Whilst many people experience discomfort and mild pain, the Women’s Health Concern Factsheet suggests that up to 10% experience pain so severe it disrupts their daily life. The real number may be higher, as some people may feel that period cramps are ‘normal’ or ‘something they need to get over’ even if they are causing significant distress and disruption.
What are period cramps?
Menstrual cramps often feel like a dull, continuous aching in the lower part of your belly, which can sometimes be felt in your lower back and/or thighs. Some people may also experience nausea, headaches, dizziness, shifts in mood and fatigue. These cramps typically start a few days before your period or at the start of your period, lasting for around 3 days.
“Period cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, are caused by the contractions of the uterus as it sheds its lining during menstruation,” says Dr. Martha Tara Lee*, a Relationship Counselor & Clinical Sexologist. “The release of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances, triggers these contractions and can cause pain and discomfort.”
It’s hard to quantify what a normal amount of period pain is, as people’s pain tolerances vary. Some people find their menstrual cramps a bit annoying and mildly painful, and they may want to rest more during the first two days of their period, but it’s not enough to cause significant distress or disrupt their regular routine. Other people are in so much pain around their period that they struggle to go to work or socialise, or do the things that they would usually do.
If your period regularly disrupts your life, you may have an underlying condition such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. Your doctor may also want to rule out other potential causes, such as an infection around your reproductive organs, ovarian cyst, an ectopic pregnancy, or possibly certain types of cancer. If you suspect that may be the case, please speak to your doctor. Remember that you deserve to have a good quality of life and you shouldn’t be in significant pain every month. You may find Endometriosis UK helpful for more information and advice about this condition.
How do you help get rid of period cramps fast?
Dr. Martha Tara Lee recommends the following DIY methods of helping to relieve period cramps.
- Apply heat: Placing a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower abdomen or taking a warm bath can help relax the muscles and relieve cramps.
- Exercise: Gentle exercises like walking or stretching can increase blood flow and reduce cramping.
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may help alleviate pain and stress.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation and relieve menstrual cramps. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.
You may also find massaging your own tummy and back, or asking a friend to do it for you/investing in an electric massager may help alleviate some of the pain.
Does heat help with period cramps?
“Heat can be helpful, for example in the form of a hot bath, hot shower, or heating pad. Weighted blankets can also offer relief,” says Jillian Amodio, a licensed social worker and sex educator.
Applying heat to the painful area can help reduce muscle tension and relax the abdominal muscles, which can minimise pain caused by muscle spasms. Heat can also increase blood circulation around the pelvis, helping to stop fluid retention and lessen swelling, which can also decrease pain.
Which sleeping positions can help with period pain?
Some people may find it hard to sleep during their period. Different things work for different people, so you may want to try a few different positions and see what works best for you. The foetal position, where you lie on your side with your legs tucked towards your chest, may encourage the abdominal muscles to relax and thus can decrease pain. Lying on your side may reduce pressure on your abdomen, and placing a pillow between your knees may bring some relief. Lying on your back may also reduce pressure on the belly, and may also decrease back pain.
“I suggest sleeping with a weighted blanket or weighted plush on the belly,” says Jillian Amodio. “A pillow under the knees can also ease any cramping felt in the lower back.”
Home remedies for period pain
“Rest can help to relieve symptoms of period pain, but it’s not something that can be remedied fast,” says Juliet Owen-Nuttall, fertility wellbeing practitioner and co-founder of the Non Invasive Method. “Reducing your activities and exercise during your periods can bring relief to symptoms..”
When should you see a doctor about period pain?
“There is no amount of pain that is too small to see a doctor about,” says Dr Martha Tara Lee. “If you’re unhappy with it, that alone is reason enough to do something about it. If you have severe pain (greater than what taking an over-the-counter painkiller can alleviate), you should definitely be evaluated for conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids.”
You deserve to enjoy your life and not dread your period, so we want to encourage you to see your doctor if your period cramps are having a noticeable effect on your life. We’ve listed some tips to help with period cramps, but please do keep in mind that these may not be useful if you are living with an underlying health condition.
*None of the medical professionals mentioned in this article endorse any products or brands.
Hana® 75µg film-coated tablets contains desogestrel and is an oral contraception for women of child bearing age to prevent pregnancy. Always read the instructions on the package leaflet carefully.