Most people who menstruate will experience period cramps – pain felt in the abdomen (and sometimes in the back and thighs too) around the time of their period – during their lifetime.
Period pain can range from feeling dull and mild to intense and piercing but, regardless, remains an unpleasant (and, in some cases, truly horrific) symptom of menstruation.
So, what actually causes period pain? And what can you do to reduce that pain? Read on...
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Period pain intensity varies from person to person, and often from period to period, too. For some, period pain may be mild, causing very little disruption to their lives, whilst for others, period pain can be debilitating.
A period is essentially a womb shedding its lining. In order to shed its lining, the wall of the womb contracts vigorously, which compresses blood vessels and stops blood, and therefore oxygen, supply to the womb.
When starved of oxygen, the womb releases chemicals that trigger pain. Your body then begins releasing more chemicals, called prostaglandins, that increase period pain by causing the womb muscles to contract even more.
5 ways to ease period pain discomfort
1. Take pain relief medication
Let’s get straight to it – the most efficient and reliable way of treating period pain with with painkillers. The NHS recommends ibuprofen and aspirin for managing period cramps (unless you have asthma, or stomach, kidney, or liver problems, in which case avoid). Paracetamol could provide pain relief, too.
If you cannot manage your period pain with over-the-counter medication, speak to your GP. They may prescribe stronger pain relief, like codeine or naproxen.
2. Gentle movement
In a 2019 study by FitrWoman and Strava, 78% of 14,184 women surveyed said that exercise reduces the symptoms related to their menstrual cycle, including period pain. The study also found that moderate intensity exercise appeared to be the most effective at reducing symptoms.
It’s worth remembering that everybody is different, and whilst one person might respond positively to movement when on their period, another might not. Try easing in with a gentle walk or yoga class to gauge how your body responds.
According to one study, gentle self-massage of the abdomen could help to ease period pain by relaxing the womb. Participants who had a five-minute abdominal massage every day for six days prior to coming on their period experienced significantly less pain than those who didn’t.
Try making light, circular motions on your abdomen in the lead-up to your period to see if it helps to reduce your discomfort.
4. Apply heat
Heat, when applied to the abdomen, may help to lessen period pain. It’s thought to work by relaxing the contracting muscles in the womb that cause period pain and boosting blood (and oxygen) circulation as a result.
Of course, heat won’t necessarily rid you of period pain altogether, but it might ease discomfort. Try using a heat pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.
5. Take a warm bath
Similarly to applying heat, soaking in a warm bath can help you – and your womb – to relax.
Set aside time to truly switch off – if you can. Light your favourite candle, brew a cup of tea, and chill in the tub with a book. Whilst taking a warm bath may not entirely relieve your period pain, it may help to reduce discomfort, increase feelings of calm, and provide a temporary distraction from the pain.