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I’ve been living with my monthly visitor on and off since I was approximately eight years of age. I was a very early bloomer, so I rightly consider myself a well-versed veteran on the subject of menstrual cramps.
What causes menstrual cramps?
To put it bluntly, menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting. The hormones involved in pain and inflammation trigger the contractions so that it’s easier for the unfertilised egg and lining to be shed. The higher the level of these hormones (prostaglandins), the more painful the contractions.
Is extreme menstrual pain normal?
Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from extremely painful menstrual cramps. But it was completely normal, right? That is until I spoke with a doctor in Belfast approximately five years ago. She referred me to a gynaecologist for an investigation into suspected endometriosis. This led to a three-year wait for a simple consultation. After an hour in an overcrowded waiting room in late twenty-nineteen, I was dismissed with painkillers and no further action. Not even the scan that was initially suggested.
Your sexual health is just as valid and important as any other part of your body. Yet, as the owner of a uterus, I often feel embarrassed to talk about it. But it’s important that we educate ourselves, advocate for ourselves, and don’t allow ourselves to be spoken over.
You can find out more about menstrual cramps and the variety of issues that can arise by visiting Everyday Health.
10 ways to cope with period pain.
Personally speaking, I’m useless during my period unless I have some sort of painkillers or anti-inflammatories. It’s a good idea to always carry a supply of paracetamol with you. But if you find that you need something stronger, don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor about alternative medications to help manage the pain.
*Be aware that some painkillers can be addictive. Use with caution and in moderation.
According to Jackie Thielen (M.D), the uterus is a muscle and so anything that helps relax muscles, like applying heat, can be beneficial for menstrual cramps. I couldn’t agree more! During my period I like to curl up with a hot water bottle, microwaveable wheat bag, or heat pads if I’m on the go.
I recently bought myself a wonderful hot water bottle from WUKA. Unlike my usual hot water bottle, it secures snugly around my waist so I can wear it around the house without holding onto it. It’s also versatile and can be used on both your back and your lower abdomen at the same time due to its length.
Alternative menstrual products.
“It’s true that people often experience less cramping with free bleeding and create less waste material by not using tampons, but there are other options that can more hygienically accomplish these goals.”Heather Rupe, DO
It’s not overly well known but another way to alleviate period pain is by switching up your sanitary products. Tampons can be painful, sanitary towels can feel like wearing diapers and free bleeding, although a valid movement, isn’t always practicable. But if you’re looking for a more sustainable and less risky alternative, WUKA period underwear are environmentally friendly and can hold up to three tampons worth of menstrual blood.
I’ve never used anything other than sanitary towels before so I was initially hesitant to use the WUKA underwear. Due to the heaviness of my flow, it was suggested that I use them on medium to low-flow days. I was pleasantly surprised to find them not only extremely comfortable but also reliable! And the best part? My trousers remained stain-free!
WUKA also offers a ‘My First Period‘ kit for young people about to embark on a new chapter in their lives. It comes with three pairs of underwear, a wash bag, a wire-free bra let and a fact book all about menstruation!
I couldn’t let a month go by without talking about yoga and its benefits. You might not feel up to the task, but believe me when I say it helps.
There are certain stretches you can do to help alleviate the tensions in both your stomach and lower back. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine saw twenty students participate in an hour-long yoga session once a week for three months. The results found that those who took part in this study had less intense menstrual cramps than twenty other students who didn’t.
Check out some of these yoga poses to get the most from your practice during your period.
There’s nothing better than a cup of tea when you’re feeling rough. That goes double for the herbal stuff. There are a variety of herbal tea blends that can help reduce menstrual cramps, and some can even help with the onset of nausea that some can experience.
Peppermint tea and ginger tea are the two most commonly used remedies for period pain. Both have their own parts to play with peppermint being a natural muscle relaxant and ginger acting as an anti-inflammatory. Like many things consistent use is key and you won’t reap the benefits after just one cup. Replace your caffeine kick with one or both of these teas and drink them throughout the day.
Interested in other home remedies for cramps? Check out this post.
I’ve talked about the benefits of aromatherapy before, but did you know that they can also help with menstrual cramps? Instead of inhaling the scent, you simply massage it onto the affected area. Provided you’re not sensitive to essential oils, it’s a great and wholesome way to alleviate the pain! Some of the oils I’ve used include Peppermint, Lavender (which is also great for sleep), and Rose.
But how do you use them? You simply rub a small amount into your abdomen once a day until the pain subsides.
Feel good endorphins.
Our body’s natural feel-good endorphins are a great way to combat period pain. There are many ways you can go about releasing these endorphins including exercise, eating certain foods, and even having an orgasm.
It might seem self-explanatory but we need to allow ourselves additional time to rest during our period.
Although guilt is usually my default setting when I take time out, it’s the last thing on my mind when dealing with menstrual cramps. I remind myself that I’m in pain, I’m tired and I deserve to rest for putting up with my monthly visitor.
Kick back with some Netflix, cuddle up with your heat pack of choice, and sip on your peppermint tea. The rest of the world can wait.
Another non-evasive and drug-free alternative is the use of a TENS therapy machine. Electrode pads are placed on the affected area (in this case the lower abdomen and even the lower back). Soothing electric pulses are sent through the pads, through the skin and down into the nerve endings. These pulses act by suppressing the signals being sent from the source to the brain, essentially dulling the effects of period pains. I’ve known many people in my life to use TENS machines for both back and period pain, and I’ve even used it once myself. If you can get your hands on one I’d highly recommend trying them as an alternative to medication.
Hormonal Birth Control.
Although not a home remedy nor considered an alternative, birth control pills have long been considered a key way to control our periods. Not only do they allow you the freedom to control when they take place, but they can also reduce the pain felt during menstruation.
With that being said, please discuss this method with your doctor thoroughly. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to contraception, and some are more dangerous in regard to side effects than others. While the contraceptive pill may reduce period pain, it can cause blood clotting and can even have detrimental mental health impacts.