Most women know how uncomfortable it can be to deal with menstrual cramps. Menstruation is a natural part of life, but we can’t deny that it can cause certain uncomfortable symptoms. Each woman experiences menstruation differently. Some women don’t experience any discomfort while others have severe symptoms that can affect their lives each month.
Painful menstruation affects up to 90 percent of women around the world at some point in their lives. It is one of the most common causes of school and work absenteeism amongst women, and it can have a profoundly negative effect on the lives of many women. Some women can’t even perform their usual routine during their periods due to heavy bleeding and painful cramps.
A lot of women try many different methods to relieve their painful cramps throughout their lifetimes without much success. Many believe that painful menstruation is something that you must get used to, even if it affects their quality of life. And others don’t want to take over-the-counter pain medications to manage menstrual cramps.
But you don’t need to get used to painful periods. This is one of the most common issues that women face across the globe. It is no wonder that different civilizations have discovered home remedies that can relieve menstrual cramps naturally. Even before the invention of modern painkillers, women had realized which natural treatments were more effective for menstrual cramps.
Below, you will find some of the most effective, evidence-based home remedies for menstrual cramps.
Home remedy 1. Heat therapy
Heat therapy is probably one of the oldest methods of pain relief. Who among us can say that their mother or grandmother never applied a warm compress to soothe pain after we fell, got a bruise, or had colics? It turns out that there is a good reason why this ancient method is so widely used around the world.
During your period, your uterus contracts to shed its innermost lining called the endometrium. This is the layer that regenerates each month in preparation for a potential pregnancy. Once your cycle is over, hormonal signals tell your uterus that it is time to get rid of the old endometrium and make way for a new layer next month.
These contractions are what cause painful menstrual cramps. Heat therapy works by relaxing your muscles and improving blood circulation. The increase in blood flow can also relieve fluid retention and abdominal congestion, which can cause further pain by compressing pelvic nerves.
You can harness the benefits of heat therapy through simple methods like warm baths, warm compresses, towels, o water bottles. You can also get a commercial, reusable gel pack or heating pad and apply it to your lower abdomen a few times per day to get pain relief.
Home remedy 2. Acupuncture or acupressure
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, and it is easy to see why. Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles in different, strategic parts of your body in order to relieve pain or other uncomfortable symptoms. It is a feature of traditional Chinese medicine, and modern science has found that it can indeed be very useful for specific conditions.
Acupressure provides a more convenient alternative to traditional acupuncture. Acupressure is the application of pressure on acupuncture spots. Someone can apply this pressure with their fingers, elbows, palms and even feet. Acupressure devices are also commercially available and feature pressure pads that will automatically place gentle pressure on the desired area.
Different studies have found that both acupuncture and acupressure are effective remedies for menstrual cramps. Both of these methods can reduce a woman’s pain medication intake during her period, and they lower pain levels. Many different acupressure points can be used to relieve menstrual pain.
Home remedy 3. Essential oils
Using aromatherapy oils to perform an abdominal massage can relieve menstrual cramps in some cases. A 2012 study determined that a cream combined with sage, lavender, and marjoram oil was able to reduce menstrual pain when applied topically. This is because these particular oils have a high concentration of analgesic compounds, such as linalool, eucalyptol, linalyl acetate, and β-caryophyllene.
Another study found that a combination of cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender oil mixed with a base of almond oil was also able to relieve menstrual cramps. This oil mix was also applied through a massage on the lower abdominal area.
You can create your own oil mix by adding some of these essential oils to an unscented cream or lotion, or by using a carrier oil. Popular carrier oils include almond, coconut, olive, and avocado oils. Make sure to use extra-virgin, organic oils; other types of oil can contain additives that could potentially cause allergic reactions or harmful effects.
To make the most of this remedy, massage the oil mix into your abdomen at least once daily before your period starts. Then, keep performing a daily massage on each day of your period. Before using any essential oil, do a patch test on your forearm to rule out any allergic reactions.
Home remedy 4. Exercise
Exercising is probably the last thing on your mind when you are dealing with painful period cramps, but it can be very helpful. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise, either. A short, light workout will still do wonders and relieve your menstrual pain.
Exercising before and during your period has many benefits. These benefits include reducing PMS symptoms, making you feel more energized, releasing endorphins, improving your mood, and relieve period cramps.
This doesn’t mean that you have to perform a long, arduous exercise routine if you are not feeling up to it. Low-impact exercise options that are great for your period days include:
- Low-volume strength training
Home remedy 5. Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated is very important to your everyday health, even when you aren’t expecting your period. But drinking plenty of water becomes even more important during your menstruation. In fact, proper hydration is one of the most affordable, simplest, and most effective remedies for menstrual cramps.
Your muscles are more likely to contract abnormally when you are dehydrated, and the same principle applies to your uterus. If you haven’t been drinking enough water, your uterus will contract with more intensity, and you will feel more menstrual pain.
Additionally, dehydration triggers excessive fluid retention. When you are dehydrated, your body will try to retain as much water as possible. Water retention can make you feel bloated, uncomfortable, and it can increase pain.
Make sure you always carry your water bottle with you during your period – and every other day, too! Drinking teas made from ginger, fennel, and cinnamon – more on that in a second – can relieve menstrual pain and increase your water intake at the same time.
Avoid foods and substances which can increase dehydration and water retention. These substances include alcohol, excessive caffeine, salty foods, processed foods, and carbonated drinks. If you crave salty foods during your period, it is much better to go with a homemade, healthy alternative instead of a store-bought snack.
Home remedy 6. Magnesium
Magnesium has become a top-rated supplement in recent years. This essential mineral can have a significant beneficial effect on many gynecological conditions, including menstrual pain.
Magnesium can help relax your smooth muscle, which is the type of tissue that is found on your uterus. It also inhibits the production of certain pro-inflammatory compounds.
Research has shown that magnesium can help alleviate many period-related symptoms, including cramps, muscular pain, water retention, bloating, and breast tenderness. Magnesium is even more effective when combined with vitamin B6 supplementation.
You can find magnesium in foods like leafy greens, quinoa, dark chocolate, almonds, pumpkin seeds, popcorn, whole grains, and black beans. You can also take a daily magnesium supplement.
Home remedy 7. Fennel
The tiny fruits of the plant Foeniculum vulgare, more commonly known as fennel seeds, have been traditionally used to treat painful menstruation. Fennel has anti-inflammatory properties, and it can help relieve fluid retention – which is what makes you feel bloated during your period.
Fennel seeds also contain phytoestrogens. These natural, estrogen-like compounds can help regulate your hormonal levels during your periods, reducing uncomfortable symptoms like cramps.
A 2012 study found that women who took fennel extract during their menstruation had significantly lower levels of pain during their periods when compared to women who received a placebo. This natural remedy didn’t show any negative side effects during the study.
You can take a fennel extract for your menstrual cramps, or make tea with some fennel seeds. Some people even prefer to eat raw, whole fennel seeds. If you are going to make fennel tea, avoid letting the water boil since this can damage the beneficial compounds in the seeds.
Home remedy 8. Ginger
Ginger is the root of the Zingiber officinale plant. It is widely available as a ground-up powder, or as the fresh, whole root. Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties, and it can help with menstrual cramps and other menstrual symptoms.
Ginger inhibits the production of prostaglandins – which are pro-inflammatory substances – in your body. Prostaglandins also stimulate uterine contractions, which are the main source of period cramps. Ginger relieves menstrual pain by reducing inflammation and inhibiting uterine contractions at the same time.
Research has found that women who take a ginger powder supplement have significantly lower levels of abdominal pain and cramps during their menstruation. Additional evidence suggests that ginger can even help reduce menstrual bleeding when taken for several months. Ginger can also improve nausea, which is another common menstrual symptom.
You can easily find many ginger powder formulations in the market. Most ginger root powder supplements come in capsules which can be easily taken 3 times each day. You can also make some ginger tea using the fresh root; aim to drink at least 3-4 cups each day during your period.
Home remedy 9. Cinnamon
Cinnamon, or cinnamomum verum, is an ancient spice that comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree. This bark rolls up after being left to dry, and it can be used as a stick or as a ground-up powder. You can add cinnamon powder to many dishes, or make tea from the powder or cinnamon sticks.
Cinnamon has been used to treat many ailments for thousands of years. Cinnamon tea is packed with antioxidants, which can reduce oxidation and inflammation in your body.
Several studies have proven that cinnamon can significantly reduce PMS symptoms and menstrual pain. Research has also shown that taking cinnamon during the first days of your period can even reduce nausea, vomiting, and menstrual bleeding.
When to see a doctor
Please seek medical attention if you:
- Have periods that are accompanied by severe pain
- Have irregular menstrual cycles
- Have a menstrual cycle that lasts less than 21 days or more than 35 days
- Have periods that last longer than 7 days
- Soak through a pad or tampon every hour for several continuous hours
- Feel very weak during your menstruation
- Have PMS or menstrual symptoms that affect your quality of life or regular routine
- Are passing clots the size of a quarter or larger
- Suddenly start to experience new period-related symptoms that you never had before
- Experience significant variations from your usual menstrual cycle
Final thoughts about Menstrual Cramps
Period cramps are a widespread problem for women everywhere in the world. But the fact that so many people deal with this issue doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do about it. On the contrary, there are many natural remedies and healthy lifestyle changes that can relieve this symptom without having to take medications.
If your period is interfering with your activities and affecting your quality of life, please consider seeking medical attention. Many health conditions can worsen period symptoms. These are endometriosis, for example, and can go undiagnosed for a long time.
Your period shouldn’t stop you from carrying out your usual day-to-day routine. Although a wide range of symptoms can accompany periods, they are usually manageable through simple treatment and healthy habits.
Andrea, M.D is from Valencia, Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual health and education, and public health and global health. Additionally, she enjoys researching and learning about beauty, skincare, and cosmetic innovations. She has also volunteered in several NGOs in Venezuela. In her free time, Andrea enjoys reading, drinking copious amounts of coffee, making desserts for her family, going to the beach, and spending time with her dog, Dorito.