While menstrual cramps can be painful, you can take many routes to relief and get rid of the pain.
More than half of women who menstruate report some pain from period cramps for a day or two each month. While menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, are usually not a sign of a serious health condition, they can put a crimp in your lifestyle.
To help with the pain, here are some safe and effective tactics. If your period cramps seem severe or you don’t get relief despite trying some of these options, check with your doctor to rule out more serious health issues.
POP A SAFE PAINKILLER TO CUT THE INFLAMMATION
Not everyone wants to turn to medicine to soothe period cramps, but moderate use of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), can help, Palmieri says. Menstrual cramps occur because of local release of substances called prostaglandins, he explains, and NSAIDs lower prostaglandin production and decrease overall inflammation and pain.
Check first with your doctor to be sure NSAIDs are a good choice for you, especially if you have a history of bleeding or kidney issues. And read the label for dosing instructions to be sure you don’t accidentally take too many.
SOME HERBAL TEA VARIETIES CAN CALM CRAMPING
Research on herbal teas for menstrual pain relief is scarce, say experts, but teas have been used traditionally and can help. Because some of the herbs may act as estrogens, ask your doctor first before using one, especially if you have a history of a hormone-related cancer or take blood-thinning drugs.
One example of an herbal tea that people use for menstrual discomfort is cramp bark. Boil 2 teaspoons of the bark in a cup of water, simmer for about 15 minutes, and drink it three times a day. Be sure to clear this remedy with your doctor first, especially if you’re on diuretics for blood pressure or on lithium.
Tea with peppermint oil may also help. She advises her patients with cramps to start sipping the whichever tea gives them relief a week or so before they expect their period. Ask your doctor if that might work for you.
MASSAGE WITH ESSENTIAL OILS FOR PAIN RELIEF
Massage with certain aromatic essential oils (such as lavender essential oil, clary sage essential oil, or marjoram essential oil) can also relieve menstrual cramp pain.
Just be sure you’re using essential oils safely. It is recommended to dilute pure essential oils in an unscented cream or lotion or other type of oil before using directly on skin to avoid irritation and other problems.
CURL UP WITH A HEATING PAD TO EASE PERIOD CRAMPS
Researchers assigned 84 women who had cramps to one of four groups. One used a combination of a heated patch and ibuprofen (200 mg every 6 hours). A second group used an unheated patch and ibuprofen. A third group used a heated patch and a placebo pill. A fourth group, the control, was given an unheated patch and a placebo pill.
Over the two study days, the women using heat plus ibuprofen, heat alone, and ibuprofen alone reported greater pain relief than those on the placebo. Women using heat with ibuprofen did not report differences in pain relief compared with those using ibuprofen alone. But with heat, they experienced faster improvement in pain relief: about 90 minutes after starting, compared with nearly three hours for those taking medicine alone. More women who used both heat and ibuprofen reported complete pain relief compared with those in the control group, the researchers found.
UP THE MAGNESIUM IN YOUR DIET TO HELP NERVE AND MUSCLE FUNCTION
Dietary magnesium seems to help ease the pain of cramps. Magnesium is found in many foods and as a supplement if you can’t get what you need from your diet. Magnesium helps regulate nerve and muscle functioning, among other vital tasks; researchers who evaluated the evidence on magnesium call it a promising treatment for menstrual cramps. But they cannot recommend a specific dose, because researchers have studied various doses. The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium for women of childbearing age is about 320 mg daily. An ounce of dry almonds or one half cup of boiled spinach each has about 80 mg.
The dose you may need depends on the severity of your cramps and other factors. Ask your doctor about the best magnesium intake for you.