It’s common to feel discomfort around your abdomen, lower back, and thighs when you’re menstruating. During your period, the muscles of your womb contract and relax to help shed built-up lining. Sometimes you’ll experience cramps, which are your muscles at work. Some women and girls may experience nausea, vomiting, headaches, or diarrhea as well.
Doctors aren’t sure why some women experience painful menstruation and others don’t. But some factors that are associated with more intense pain include:
having a heavy blood flow
having your first child
being under the age of 20, or just starting your period
having an overproduction of or sensitivity to prostaglandins, a hormone that influences your womb
Other factors include growths in your womb, endometriosis (abnormal uterine tissue growth), and use of birth control.
For immediate relief, try some of these:
Taking over-the-counter medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the primary over-the-counter form of pain relief recommended for menstrual pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These drugs help lower your body’s production of prostaglandin. NSAIDs aren’t as effective as oral contraception, but they can help reduce pain.
Applying heat to your abdomen and lower back may relieve pain. A 2012 study focused on women 18 to 30 years old who had regular menstrual cycles found that a heat patch at 104°F (40°C) was as effective as ibuprofen.
If you don’t have a hot water bottle or heating pad, take a warm bath or use a hot towel. Or you can make your own heating pad:
Cut and sew together two pieces of fabric, leaving a hole at the top.
Fill with uncooked rice and sew up the hole.
Microwave for a few minutes to the desired temperature. Don’t overheat!
Let cool, if necessary. Or wrap your homemade pad in a towel to reduce heat transfer. Reuse as necessary.
You can also purchase a heating pad on Amazon.com.
Massaging with essential oils
Massage therapy for about 20 minutes can help reduce menstrual pain. One study looked at women with period pain caused by endometriosis. The researchers found that massages significantly reduced pain immediately and afterward. Massage therapy for menstruation involves pressing specific points while the therapist’s hands move around your abdomen, side, and back.
Avoid these foods
During menstruation, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that cause bloating and water retention. Some of the biggest culprits include:
Reducing or cutting out these foods can help alleviate cramps and decrease tension. Instead, try soothing (caffeine-free) ginger or mint teas or hot water flavored with lemon. If you need a sugar fix, snack on fruits like strawberries or raspberries.
The idea of exercise immediately before or during your period may not appeal to you. But exercise releases endorphins. Research suggests exercise is effective at reducing menstrual pain to the extent it may also eliminate or reduce the need for pain-relief medication. Moderate activity such as walking can be beneficial during your period in place of more strenuous activity.
Yoga is a gentle exercise that also releases endorphins and helps prevent or reduce menstrual symptoms. In one recent study, researchers found three different yoga poses — cobra, cat, and fish — significantly reduced intensity and duration of pain during menstruation.