Nearly every woman experiences some degree of pain or discomfort during their period. The intensity can vary from person to person, with some women suffering greatly while others barely notice it.
Period pain is completely normal, but this doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Nor do you have to put up with disruption to your day. Pain can be managed and reduced with a few tips and tricks, self-help measures and medication. This means you can go about your day as usual.
What causes period pain in the first place?
Women experience pain during menstruation because of contractions in the walls of the womb. The muscles tighten vigorously during a period, compressing the blood vessels and temporarily cutting off the blood and oxygen supply to the area. It is this brief loss of oxygen that triggers the pain. The womb releases pain-triggering chemicals, along with other chemicals called prostaglandins that encourage the womb to contract even more. Unfortunately, this can lead to even more pain.
Some women experience more period pain than others, although it’s not fully understood why this happens. One school of thought is that some women release more prostaglandins than others, which means more cramps and more pain.
If you have very severe period pain or something about your normal cycle changes, head to your doctor for a check-up. In some cases, severe pain is caused by underlying medical conditions or is related to the use of contraceptive devices. It’s always worth getting checked out, even if it’s just the case that you happen to have stronger contractions and more pain than other women.
Period pain tends to last between 48 and 72 hours, although it varies from person to person. You’ll usually notice the most pain when bleeding is heaviest.
Medication to reduce period pain
You can alleviate period pain yourself at home through the use of mild painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. If you’re not sure what medication is safe for you to take, always consult a medical professional first.
If you’re not having any luck with these painkillers, make an appointment with your doctor to find out whether stronger painkillers could be suitable for you.
Self-help tips for managing period pain
There are lots of other things you can do to manage and relieve period pain, alongside painkillers or instead of them. Everyone has their own method for handling period pain, but what really works? Take a look at these 5 handy self-help tips:
1. Gentle exercise
You may not feel remotely like hitting the gym or going for a run when you’re on your period, but movement really will help you to feel better during period pain. Opt for gentle exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming. Anything that helps you to relax, such as yoga or pilates, is also worth a try. You can try more vigorous exercise if you wish, but be careful not to overdo it if you’re feeling delicate.
Exercise helps to alleviate period pain for a number of reasons. It can help your body to release endorphins, improving your mood and acting as a natural painkiller. This is good news for women with an active fitness routine, as it means that you don’t have to interrupt your workouts just because your period has started.
2. Warm bath
A warm bath is soothing even when you’re not experiencing period pain, but the heat can be great for helping the uterine muscles to relax. It can also help you to relax, especially if you add soft lighting and a touch of aromatherapy into the mix. A lovely bath is also ideal for those who struggle to get to sleep during the most painful part of their period. The heat and steam can soothe, calm and get you ready for sleep.
3. Hot water bottle
A hot water bottle, heat pad or even a warming balm on your stomach or back (or both) can offer relief from period pain. It helps your muscles to relax and provides soothing heat. This tip can be used virtually anywhere - if you’re at work and don’t feel comfortable with a hot water bottle, you can use a discrete adhesive heat pad under your clothes to help provide relief.
4. Soothing tea
You may already use hot water bottles, but have you considered providing some soothing heat on the inside too? Sipping a hot cup of delicious herbal tea can help to relax your muscles and provide heat from the inside. This is especially relaxing at bedtime as you prepare for sleep. It’s best to steer clear of caffeinated or sugary drinks though, as these could keep you awake and in the case of too much sugar, potentially make your cramps worse.
A gentle rub of your lower abdomen or back (if you can call on the assistance of a partner or friend to help) can reduce pain and relax your muscles. Aim for a light, circular motion across the painful area, perhaps with the use of a warming lotion at the same time.
For those particularly painful periods, you may need to throw everything at the situation. Take a gentle walk, then prime your hot water bottle or bath, prepare a hot cup of tea and make sure you’re well supplied with painkillers.
If you don’t already, it can also help to keep a close track of your menstrual cycle. If you know when to expect your period, you can make sure you have all the supplies you need.
And remember, you don’t have to suffer severe period pain alone. If the above methods aren’t working or you’re worried about abnormally painful menstruation, always go to see your doctor just in case. There may be nothing wrong at all, but your doctor can at least prescribe you some pain-relieving medication or give advice to help you manage the pain.