How to Make Mother Nature’s Monthly Visit Bearable
Ladies, from the beginning of puberty until the end of the menopause, the majority of us will have an estimated 450 periods over our lifetimes, and for many women this can cause varying degrees of pain at certain points in the period cycle.
Period pain, or dysmenorrhea, can range from sharp spasms to a general dull ache across the lower abdomen, hips and legs. Each monthly cycle can bring different degrees and kinds of pain, so it can be useful to understand exactly what’s happening within your body and how best to combat the pain.
What Causes Period Pain?
We humans experience a monthly menstrual cycle. During your period, the muscles in the walls of the uterus contract more than at other times of the month, in preparation for the shedding of the womb lining. These contractions can cause mild discomfort to severe pain – some women experience more pain than others.
During the menstrual cycle, the pain will usually begin at the same time as the bleeding. Period pain, accompanied by hormonal changes which can cause mood swings, bloating, anxiety and fatigue, all add up to make this time of the month quite a strain on your physical and mental state, and interfere with day-to-day life.
How to Reduce Period Pain
Period pains are a somewhat inevitable part of womanhood and are usually a sign that a woman’s body is healthy and able to conceive. However, there are a number of things you can actively do to reduce the monthly pain, that you can easily do throughout the month as well.
Eat the right foods
Diet can play a big role in helping to reduce the bad side effects of your period. Around the time of the bleed, women tend to experience cravings for foods high in sugar, salt and fat, so it can be easy to choose unhealthy foods. However, what your body really needs at this time is nutrients to replenish those being lost through the bleed.
Instead of junk food, choose foods with high nutrient densities. You should always aim to eat healthily whenever possible, but choosing the right food during your period can really help ease the pain. Some of the foods that can replenish those valuable nutrients include:
- Salmon and other oily fish
- High fibre vegetables like broccoli and kale
- Nuts and seeds
- Lentils and other pulses
- Whole grains, quinoa
Consuming healthy food during your period not only replenishes nutrients, but it keeps your body energized and reduces bloating which can make the pain feel more intense. Stay away from inflammatory foods such those high in sugar, refined flour or large quantities of oil. Greasy, processed food can actually exacerbate the chemicals that cause the uterus to contract in the first place, so during your time of the month it’s best to avoid them altogether.
The bloating you experience during your period is cause by water retention; your body is holding on to excess water. By making sure you drink plenty of water during your period, to help flush out the excess and reduce the discomfort.
Drinking warm water or herbal tea is a great option as the warmth helps increase blood flow which in turn relaxes the cramping muscles.
Do some gentle exercise
Exercise can sometimes feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re experiencing period pains, but gentle exercise can help alleviate premenstrual anxiety and act as a distraction from the pain.
You don’t need to hit the gym for a full body workout, but light aerobic exercise such as walking or yoga can provide natural pain relief.
If you’re organised and know when to expect your next bleed, preemptive exercise can really help to reduce period pain when it comes. Staying regularly active has a big impact on your health anyway, but keeping your muscles – particularly the abdominal ones – active can help to control the cramps when they come. Crunches, sit ups and core strength exercises are all great options.
Exercise also releases endorphins which help to relieve physical and mental stress, so is great for the time leading up to your period, as well as during,
Applying heat can really help reduce pain by soothing the muscle tension. Just as you might do with a sports injury, apply heat to the painful area – usually the lower abdominal area – with a heat pack or hot water bottle. Even better, relax in a steaming hot bubble bath. Allowing yourself to relax will also relieve the stress and anxiety that can accompany period pain.
Caffeine has a diuretic effect on your body. This narrows your blood vessels which can make period cramps worse. It also makes you retain water which can add to the painful bloating that often accompanies periods.
Caffeine isn’t just found in coffee: other edibles that are high in caffeine include: tea, chocolate, energy drinks, sodas, protein bars and drinks, cake and ice cream. If you’re craving that caffeine/sugar hit, try ginger tea, fruit or a piece of dark chocolate instead.
Enjoy a massage
Massaging the abdominal area for just a few minutes a day can significantly reduce period pain. Massage stimulates blood flow which helps the muscles to relax and relieve the tension from cramping. Use essential oils as you massage – oils like lavender, sage and bergamot help to relax your senses and ease any pre-menstrual anxieties too.
Catch some sleep
Sometimes all that will help ease period pains is a decent night’s sleep. Make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours sleep every night for a healthier body and mind.
Lack of sleep can make you more irritable and lower your pain threshold, which makes period cramps more intense. The fetal position is a great way to sleep when you’re experiencing menstrual cramps as it helps to relax the abdomen, which helps relieve tension and reduce pain.
If you struggle to fall asleep, try playing some soothing music before bedtime, drinking camomile tea and avoiding screens before you close your eyes.
It’s not always convenient to take a bath or find a hot water bottle, so using mild pain relief is a great option for helping to reduce period pain. ibuprofen and paracetamol are anti-inflammatory drugs that can rapidly reduce mild to moderate pain. Mild pain relief drugs can wonders for targeting the cramping area and reducing the pain, often within an hour of taking the pill.
Make sure you read the instructions carefully and take the correct dose.
As well as preventing unwanted pregnancy, the contraceptive pill also help to regulate your hormones. If you suffer from period pains, consider trying the contraceptive pill as it can be a great way to make your period and period cramping less intense.
It also helps to make your cycle more regular, so you can better predict when your period is coming and prepare for it.
See a health professional
Every female body is different, so if these methods don’t work for you, or if your period pain is very intense, it might be a good idea to go see a doctor and get their input. They may be able to prescribe stronger painkillers, muscle relaxants
So, there are our tips for how to reduce period pain and ensure your period doesn’t slow you down.
Periods, especially if irregular can seem to come around all too often, but it’s important to remember that period pains are normal, and that the menstrual cycle is an indicator that you’re healthy and that everything is working correctly.
If you;re a woman and have any concerns regarding your sexual health, contact the Women’s Aid Center for further advice and support.