Menstruation is a natural part of a woman’s life, but painful menstrual cramps are a very annoying problem for many. While cramps are rarely a cause for concern, if severe they can disrupt regular activities.
Menstrual cramps have been known to occur in the abdomen, the lower back, and, in some cases, the legs. To ease the pain and discomfort, there are several over-the-counter medicines. However, some simple and natural home remedies can be equally effective and relieve symptoms faster. Read on to learn how to get rid of menstrual cramps.
Tweaking Your Diet for Menstrual Cramps
Stick to a healthy diet. This includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of water. Attempt to keep track of how particular foods affect your period.
- In some women cutting dairy intake can drastically reduce period pain.
- Plenty of fiber is particularly useful in cleansing the body of excess estrogen (which can lead to heavier and more painful periods and menstrual cramps).
- Don’t eat greasy foods that are bad for you and exercise throughout the month.
Try to avoid caffeine as much as possible. Having too much caffeine can make your cramps worse. Some sources recommend avoiding foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, teas, colas, and even chocolate, before and during your period.
Eat a banana. Bananas contain potassium, which may reduce cramps, as cramps could be due to a potassium deficiency. Other foods that contain loads of potassium include:
- Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, or raisins.
- Leafy greens, such as spinach or kale.
- Fish, such as salmon, halibut, and tuna.
- White beans, such as Adzuki, soy, or Lima beans.
Try the following other supplements. The following supplements may also be beneficial to your health and keep you from reeling with pain when your period does come. Ask your doctor about supplements before you begin a serious change in your diet. Some supplements may interact adversely with one another or with medications that you may be taking.
- Vitamin D, 400 IU daily. Vitamin D helps your body process calcium as well as help fight inflammation.
- Vitamin E, 500 IU daily. Vitamin E may help reduce menstrual pain.
- Magnesium, 360 mg daily, for 3 days before menstruation starts. Magnesium helps reduce the prostaglandins, or chemicals released during menstruation that cause muscle contractions, involved in menstrual pain.
- Calcium citrate, 500 – 1,000 mg daily. Calcium citrate helps by maintaining muscle tone.
Try taking omega-3 fatty acids. Taking a daily fish-oil supplement — high in a healthy fat called omega-3 fatty acid — could help you reduce pain caused by menstrual cramping.
- One study found that women who took daily fish oil supplements had less pain associated with cramping than women who simply took a placebo.
Try drinking a sports drink such as Gatorade. Although there is no scientific evidence to suggest that drinking a sports drink will help with period cramping, it can’t hurt. Sports drinks contain electrolytes, which help regular cramping.
- Regular cramping may be caused from hyperactivity or a deficiency of essential nutrients such as potassium or magnesium. Period cramping, however, is caused by contractions of the uterus, which tries to expel the uterine lining and any eggs that went unfertilized during ovulation. Because period cramping isn’t caused by the same thing as normal muscle cramping, sports drinks may be less effective than advertised.
Home Remedies for Menstrual Cramps
Use chamomile tea. Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that help relax the uterus and ease the spasmodic contractions that cause pain during menstruation.
- Drink at least two cups of chamomile tea a day during the week before your period.
Use ginger. Ginger may alleviate symptoms of the common cold, the flu, headaches, and menstrual pain.
- Grate a small piece of ginger, add it to hot water, and drink for menstrual cramp relief.
Use basil. Basil is another very effective herb for reducing menstrual pain and cramps. The caffeic acid present in basil has analgesic, or pain-killing properties.
- Add one tablespoon of basil leaves to one cup of boiling water. Cover tightly and allow it to cool. Drink this every few hours to ease cramps.
- Alternatively, crush a handful of basil leaves to extract the juice. Add two teaspoons of the juice to one cup of warm water. Drink this three times daily while having pain.
- You can also add fresh basil leaves to your food.
Use cinnamon. Cinnamon has long been used to relieve the congestion of colds and allergies, and as a digestive aid. Cinnamon may soothe menstrual cramps. Additionally, the spice provides an excellent source of dietary fiber, calcium, and iron, as well as manganese, which may also help relieve the symptoms of menstruation.
- Make cinnamon tea by stirring one-fourth teaspoon of cinnamon powder into a cup of hot water. Let it sit for up to five minutes, add a little honey and then sip it slowly. Drink two to three cups of cinnamon tea one to two days before your period starts to prevent cramps.
- Add one-half teaspoon of cinnamon powder and one tablespoon of honey to a glass of warm water. Drink it three times during the first day of your period to relieve pain.
- Put one-fourth cup of fresh parsley in a mug. Pour in one cup of boiling water.
- Let it steep for five minutes.
- Strain the solution and drink the tea immediately.
- Drink this tea twice a day during periods to minimize pain.
Eat papaya. Papaya contains carotene plus high amounts of vitamins C and A, as well as lower amounts of iron and calcium. This wonder fruit is low in calories and high in nutritional value, is also good for the skin, and aids in digestion.
- Just before and during your period, include papaya in your diet to minimize or eliminate pain.
Eat flaxseed. Flaxseed is great for reducing the intensity of menstrual cramps. The essential fatty acids in flaxseed help stabilize the production of progesterone. Flaxseed can also improve uterine function and help treat fertility problems.
- Consume one to two tablespoons of flaxseed daily. You can sprinkle ground flaxseed over a salad, cereal and yogurt or put it in a smoothie.
Exercises for Menstrual Cramps
The idea of intense exercise immediately before or during your period may make you cringe if you are experiencing painful cramps. However, exercise releases endorphins, which act as a natural painkiller and mood lifter. Moderate activity can be beneficial during your period in place of more strenuous activity.
Do yoga poses. Choose poses that promote relaxation and the stretching of your abdominal muscles. Breathe deeply while you maintain your yoga poses to help you relax your muscles, including your uterine muscles.
Walk around. Walking is an effective and easy remedy for pain associated with menstrual cramping. Walk briskly, and do this exercise for 30 minutes cycles at least three times a day. Walking will help get your beta-endorphins going, as well as reduce prostaglandins.
Go jogging for a little bit. This will give you enough exercise to keep you in less pain. In lieu of exercise, you can try other forms of aerobic exercise. Shoot for 30 minutes of controlled, medium-intensity aerobic exercise, 3 times a week.
- Sports, such as soccer or basketball, that involve running.
Do a few sit-ups. Any exercise may be beneficial, but sit-ups work your abdominal muscles especially, focusing attention away from cramping and toward the pleasant burn in your outer tummy.
- Exercise releases beta-endorphins in your body, which are internal opioids, or the morphine that your body produces all on its own.
Other Home Treatments for Menstrual Cramps
Lie in different positions. Lying on your side with your knees tucked into your chest can temporarily reduce the pain. Some people say to lie face down on the bed, with your face in a pillow. Stick your butt up in the air. This will relieve gas and help you feel better. Also try lying on your back, keeping your feet elevated by pillows.
Place pressure on stomach for 10 seconds at a time. Gentle pressure is best. Your body will start to notice the sensation of the pressure instead of the sensation of pain caused by the menstrual cramping. More than just offering a distraction, the pressure could also soothe some of the pain.
Massage your abdomen a little to soothe the pain. Massage the front of the abdomen, working back to your lower back. If possible have a friend or a family member massage your lower back.
Elevate your legs a foot or two above the rest of your body with pillows. This can force your uterine muscles to relax.
Engage in stress reduction activities such as yoga, massage and meditation as they may ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
Take NSAIDs for immediate pain relief. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are very effective against pain caused by menstrual cramps.
- Take ibuprofen right away and according to label instructions for your age and/or weight range. You should not exceed 1600mg in a 24 hour period without the supervision of a physician.
- Products like Midol, which are specifically designed for menstrual pain, contain acetaminophen. These products can cause kidney damage, but are an effective alternative for people sensitive to ibuprofen.
- If you have any preexisting medical conditions that make you sensitive to NSAIDs, you might want to avoid ibuprofen, as it can thin your blood or cause other complications.
- The drug ibuprofen is available over the counter (OTC) in several brand names, including Advil, Genpril, IBU-200, etc. Generic brands, simply called “Ibuprofen,” are much less expensive.
Take a warm bath. A warm bath is another form of heat treatment used to reduce the pain of cramping in women. Warm baths are believed to relax the muscles of the body, making the pain less noticeable.
- Try adding a cup of sea salt and a cup of baking soda to the water. This combination might further relax the muscles of the body. Soak in the bath for at least 30 minutes.
- Try putting a cup or two of Epsom salts in the bath. Epsom salts are high in magnesium, a deficiency of which may cause cramping. Soak in the bath for at least 30 minutes.
Use a heat treatment. Doctors recommend using heat as a way to relieve pain associated with menstrual cramping, as well as helping the cramps subside themselves.
- Get a hot water bottle and apply it to the stomach or lower abdomen. Wait 15 to 20 minutes to see if cramps have gotten better.
- If that doesn’t work, try taking a hot bath with a cup or more of Epsom salts, which are a mild muscle relaxer. Submerge your body fully underneath the Epsom salts and keep the water hot by turning the faucet on, if necessary.
Try to wear clothing that doesn’t pressure your abdomen, such as all-in-ones. They are comfortable, warm, and help reduce menstrual cramps caused by tight clothing.
Take hormonal birth control. Birth control pills contain hormones which prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. This is why your doctor may recommend birth control pills for menstrual cramps. The same hormones can also be delivered through injection, a patch you wear on your skin or in a flexible ring you insert into your vagina.
For severe pain associated with menstrual cramps, talk to your doctor about birth control. Taking birth control pills may reduce pain, bloating, and cramps associated with periods. If you have severe cramping and pain during your periods, talk to your doctor about the birth control options available to you.
- If you think the problem could be serious, have persistent cramping or extremely heavy bleeding, consult a medical professional. Endomorphisms, ovarian cysts and/or adenomyosis need to be ruled out by a professional health care provider.
- Make sure you don’t use the hot water bottle too often though and that the hot water bottle is wrapped up so you don’t burn yourself, you just need to feel the heat, it shouldn’t be painful.
- Make sure to follow the instructions on the label of any medication you choose to take.
- Women are sometimes advised to avoid caffeine: soda, pop, coffee and also foods high in sugar and sodium. On the other hand some women find coffee soothes the pain very effectively – this could be due to coffee decreasing excessive estrogen levels or relieving the bloating as it is a diuretic. It could also make your painkillers more efficient. While it is a common misconception that caffeine can increase blood flow, caffeine is actually a vaso-constrictor- it causes the walls of the veins to tighten so blood flows less freely. Notice many over the counter medications for cramps contain caffeine. It seems to have certain analgesic effects against neurological pain. Be careful though – lots of coffee can lead to magnesium deficiency which affects all sorts of processes in the body. (Sugar might be good for you too, this is very personal, you have to experiment. Eating simple carbs on your period can be good for an upset stomach.)
- Lie back in a recliner with a heating pad on your abdomen and a light blanket tossed on top with your iPod and lose yourself in the music.
- Take a nap; it distracts you and calms your muscles.
- Laying on your left side with your knees pulled up can help by taking pressure off of your internal muscles. It may also help to relieve any bloating from gas.
- Eliminating any gas will make your menstrual cramps less powerful, as less pressure is being put on your abdomen. Try gas releasing yoga moves such as: laying straight on your back, bending your knee to your chest, and pulling your leg inward.
- Also, it may help to put a cat or other small animal on top of wherever you have cramps. Make sure the animal is calm. The vibrations of a purring cat help to relax your muscles, while the gentle heat gets rid of menstrual cramps.
- Tampons make your cramps worse. Opt for a napkin-only day at the very start of your period. Also hot tea/soup & a heating pad. Lay on your back with a pillow under your knees/thighs so your lower back/sacrum are neutral.