13 Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps

Hydrate

Drinking more water can relieve bloating.

Drink More Water

Menstrual cramps, or primary dysmenorrhea, are an uncomfortable part of life for many women on a monthly basis. Drinking more water may help ease bloating, which makes symptoms worse. Get in the habit of drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day, especially during your period. Add some mint or a lemon wedge to make it more palatable. While you're at it, back off of the salt, which encourages fluid retention and bloating. Avoid alcohol, which promotes dehydration. Some women experience diarrhea in conjunction with menstrual cramps. It's important to replace lost fluids by drinking plenty of water.

Easy Ways to Get More Fluids

If you don't like the taste of plain water, there are many things you can do to increase fluid intake. Start by drinking a glass of fruit-infused water the first thing after you get up in the morning. Sip chamomile or ginger tea. Drink flavored mineral water for a new twist on hydration. Make a pitcher of cucumber, mint, or lemon water to drink throughout the day for a spa-like treat. Sip a cup of low sodium broth to increase your fluid intake. Staying well hydrated isn't just good for cramps, it's good for your overall health.

Eat to Reduce Pain

What you eat may determine how bad your cramps become.

Diet Is Key

You may be craving fatty, sugary, or salty foods when you have your period, but these foods are not your friends. Skip the doughnuts and potato chips. Some women find that eating the right kinds of foods may help ease menstrual pain. Anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, blueberries, squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers are good choices. Coldwater fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids are also healthy choices. Eat more calcium-rich beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens. These foods contain compounds that combat inflammation. Some women report that eating this way can help ease menstrual pain and boost health. It's best to eat a healthy, balanced diet year round, not just for a few days a month during your period.

Avoid These

Your dietary and lifestyle habits can either help or hurt period cramps. If you experience monthly menstrual discomfort, some women find it helpful to avoid certain foods. Skip white, refined foods including sugar, bread, and pasta. Avoid trans-fatty acids that are found most often in commercially-prepared foods like French fries, cookies, onion rings, crackers, and margarine. Ditch alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. All of these things increase inflammation and may encourage painful periods.

Skip the Caffeine

Caffeine may contribute to painful periods.

Say No to Joe

Eliminating caffeine helps many women relieve menstrual pain. Caffeine comes in many forms including coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks. If you consume caffeine daily, you may need to taper your dose down slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms. As a substitute, try smoothies loaded with antioxidant-rich greens, berries, and protein powder. The nutrients will give you a much needed pick me up without the increased pain that can accompany caffeine.

Medication Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers can ease painful periods.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

For severe menstrual pain, over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen sodium can reduce menstrual cramps. Keep your pain relievers of choice at home, work, and in the car so you have them on hand when you need them. Be careful with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have certain health issues. These drugs can trigger gastrointestinal ulcers or make bleeding conditions worse. Pain occurs when the uterus contracts.

Reach for Heat

Heating pads and hot water bottles offer relieving warmth.

Easy At Home Treatment

Applying a heating pad, heat wrap, or hot water bottle to your abdomen works wonders for relieving menstrual cramps. You can find these items in the drugstore or online. The continuous application of heat may work as well as ibuprofen for the relief of dysmenorrhea pain. Heat helps muscles relax.

One study of women between the ages of 18 and 30 who had primary dysmenorrhea found that those who applied a heat patch that heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit experienced similar pain relief benefits from the patch as those who relied on ibuprofen for cramps. If you don’t have a heating pad, heat wrap, hot water bottle, or heat patch handy, a hot shower or warm towel can be used instead.

Exercise

Fitness releases endorphins, which relieve pain during your monthly cycle.

Get Moving to Relieve Symptoms

Many women find that exercising helps relieve menstrual cramps. Exercise releases endorphins, brain chemicals that promote well being. Whether you enjoy walking, running, or swimming, it's safe to participate in all of these activities during your period. Yoga and tai chi are gentler forms of exercise that may be easier to do if you experience fatigue.

Massage

An abdominal massage may ease cramping.

Touch Brings Relief

Massaging your abdomen for as little as 5 minutes a day may be able to help relieve menstrual cramps. Massage encourages blood flow. Massing cream containing essential oils like clary sage, lavender, and marjoram has additional benefits for the body. These oils contain compounds that have been reported by many to help relieve pain and soothe dysmenorrhea.

Plants That Relieve Pain

If other treatments haven't worked, you may want to try herbal remedies.

Herbal Treatment

Health practitioners may prescribe herbs to treat a woman's menstrual cramps. Black cohosh, cramp bark, turmeric, and chasteberry are a few herbs that have been used. They are effective for pain relief and decreasing inflammation. Make sure your doctor knows about all of your medical conditions, medications, and supplements because herbs are not appropriate for every woman. Herbs may interfere with the action of some medications or decrease their effectiveness.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Some women report period pain relief from acupuncture and acupressure.

Get to the Point

Acupuncture and acupressure are eastern healing treatments that stimulate certain trigger points on the skin to produce desired effects in the body. The therapies are very effective for a variety of medical conditions including menstrual cramps. An acupuncturist can use needles to decrease a woman's menstrual cramps. The practitioner can show you where these trigger points are and how to stimulate them with pressure from your hands to achieve similar results. Applying pressure to key points on the back, abdomen, feet, and the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger can be effective treatments for pain. The best part is, since these techniques are drug free, you can do them any time you experience symptoms. Ask the practitioner for articles with pictures that can help you learn how to do acupressure on yourself.

Work Your Core

Light, relaxing yoga may ease menstrual distress.

Exercise for Period Cramps

An easy home remedy for menstrual pain is to perform light exercises that engage the core. Take deep breaths while lying on your back with the knees bent. Yoga is another type of exercise that may help women who have primary dysmenorrhea. In one study, young women who practiced yoga for 60 minutes once a week for 12 weeks felt less menstrual distress and pain compared to those who did not do yoga. Some of the best poses that help women feel better during menstruation include bridge, staff pose, and bound angel. Ask a qualified yoga instructor to show you these positions.

Tame Chronic Sleep Problems

Poor sleep patterns can encourage menstrual distress.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep quality has an effect on menstrual symptoms and many health conditions. In one study, women who had insomnia reported more severe dysmenorrhea and more interference with daily activities due to symptoms compared to women who did not have insomnia. Practice good sleep hygiene to keep painful menstruation symptoms at bay. This involves going to bed at about the same time every night. Establish and stick to a nightly routine to give your body the signal that it's time for sleep. The routine may involve things like listening to soothing music, enjoying a cup of tea, or taking a warm bath. Getting adequate sleep to promote overall health will help you manage monthly menstrual symptoms.

More Sleep Tips

Avoid TV, your smartphone, computer, and other screens before bed to help you wind down. You may feel more comfortable sleeping in different positions during your period.. Pay extra attention to sleep hygiene in the days leading up to your period.

Baths Soothe Pain

Taking a soothing bath has been known to relieve pain.

Just Add Bubbles

A warm bath may be just the thing you need to soothe pain and relax tense muscles. Start by adding some luxurious bubble bath or fragrant essential oil. Read your favorite book or magazine to help melt stress and tension away. Taking a bath in the evening is a great activity to help you wind down and sleep better. If you’re not a bath person, a warm shower can produce similar benefits and reduce pelvic pain.

Seek Medical Guidance

Your doctor can help you decide if hormonal birth control is a good choice for you.

Treatment Can Be Tailored

If home remedies and other interventions are not enough to control your symptoms, it is time to visit the doctor. Your physician can check your hormone levels and may prescribe birth control pills or other medications to treat dysmenorrhea. Let your doctor know about your symptoms, especially how they contribute to sleep loss or interfere with daily functioning. Having a complete picture about your medical history will help your doctor come up with the best treatment for you. Getting a yearly health check up is a good idea for everyone.

Birth Control Pills

Some doctors may prescribe hormonal birth control pills or patches for women who suffer from painful menstrual cramps. The medication may help regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce pain. Hormonal birth control helps guard against pregnancy and may help ailments associated with the uterus like endometriosis, if present. Endometriosis and other disorders associated with a woman's reproductive organs may cause secondary dysmenorrhea. This type tends to start earlier during the monthly cycle and lasts longer than typical cramps. Make sure your doctor knows your entire health history and about all of your medical conditions because the pill may not be appropriate for every woman.

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 6/19/2017

13 Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps

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