Periods can be less than a nuisance for people, while some dread the time they come around each month.
They should be celebrated and embraced. Periods remind us that we can create life, after all. But in many spaces, periods have been widely misunderstood and even stigmatized by men and women alike. Throughout history, menstrual cycles are referred to as harmful and even unclean.
This is absolutely not the case.
Having periods is completely natural and should be much more accepted, but for many, they can be painful, inconvenient, and irritating. It’s clear that we still have a ways to go when it comes to accepting and embracing menstrual cycles.
Extensive research has been done on periods, period cramps, painful periods, and ways to provide period pain relief.
In this article, you’ll learn about them all so you can feel better when that particular time of the month arrives.
Some Period Statistics & Facts
Healthline has published a wealth of knowledge about periods that may be news to you or something you may know.
Here are some facts about periods:
- Average menstrual cycles can last anywhere from 24 – 28 days
- A typical period can last 4 – 8 days
- 90% of people with periods experience some of the most common symptoms
- Monthly periods are indicative of a regular menstrual cycle
- Up to 40% of people with periods report periods so painful they miss work or school.
- More than half of people with periods experience pain during their periods.
What Are Painful Periods or Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea, or period pain, is more common in people with periods than you would think. More than half of people with periods experience pain during their period at least 1 to 2 days a month.
Typically the pain is minor. However, in more severe cases, some may experience pain that can last for several days and affect their daily activities.
Painful periods can start soon after a person begins having their period for the first time.
There are also two kinds of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is a period pain that comes before or during a period. Typically the pain is just normal period cramps caused by a natural build-up of prostaglandins, which line the uterus.
These prostaglandins are the culprits for blood vessels, and muscles contracting in the uterus and are typically very high on the first day of the period. As a person sheds the lining of the uterine wall, the prostaglandins lessen, and so do the period cramps.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is a reproductive organ disorder.
For this type, menstrual cramps will last longer than usual during a period, and pain will get worse as time goes on. Secondary dysmenorrhea can start much earlier than the period, continue during the period, and last long after the period has ended.
If you’re experiencing pain but not sure which pain you might be experiencing, contact a health professional or OBGYN who can chat with you about the pain you’re facing.
Understanding the 7 Period-Related Health Conditions
There are at least seven period-related health conditions, some of which can cause severe pain when a person starts menstruating.
The seven most common period-related health conditions include:
- *Endometriosis – when the uterine tissue grows outside the uterus and can be very painful during a period since hormones released during the period cause these tissues to be inflamed. This often leads to severe cramping, pain, and heavy periods.
- *Uterine Fibroid – non-cancerous tumors found between layers of tissue in the uterus.
- Menorrhagia – very heavy menstrual bleeding (anywhere from 2 to 3 tablespoons of menstrual blood.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) – symptoms that can occur a week a two before a period starts. Symptoms of PMS include headache, fatigue, bloating, and irritability.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – a more severe version of PMS and includes symptoms like depression, tension, intense mood shifts, and lasting angry.
- *Adenomyosis – tissue that would typically line the uterine wall is instead lining the muscle wall of the uterus. This is more common in older those who have had children.
- Poor Menstrual Hygiene – without proper period hygiene, bacteria can develop and pose serious and sometimes painful health issues.
*Starred conditions are causes of Secondary Dysmenorrhea.
Understanding these can help discover the source of your pain so you can take steps to relieve it.
When reading through this, please remember to make an appointment with a health professional who can help you understand the extent of these health conditions.
You can learn about other types of painful reproductive health conditions here.
11 Ways to Relieve Painful Periods
One of the ways period pain can be managed is with medications, some of which specifically target prostaglandins. They are usually known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs.
But for those who would rather skip medications and opt for at-home remedies and treatments, below are some ways to relieve painful periods at home.
Some of the ways you might be able to relieve period pain includes:
1. Stay hydrated
Since periods can often cause a lot of bloating, drinking water can help. Drinking water can relieve some of the pain caused by bloating. Hot water can also aid in increasing blood flow, which would then help relax your muscles.
2. Try drinking more herbal teas
Most herbal teas have inflammatory properties and can help prevent muscle spasms in the uterus during cramping. Herbal teas can also aid in stress relief.
3. Consume More Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Foods like turmeric, garlic, ginger, fatty fish, nuts, and leafy vegetables can increase blood flow and help reduce inflammation. A diet and nutrition plan can help you manage this when period pain is overwhelming.
4. Avoid Sweet Treats
We all know eating chocolate is a habit for people during their periods, but it can cause bloating and inflammation. The comfort food may make you feel great now, but it will not serve you during your period and could cause more pain.
5. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture is another way to draw pain away from the body when experiencing some of the common symptoms of period pain. Jan, our acupuncture specialist, is skilled in treating period pain cramps with acupuncture.
6. Schedule a Massage
For those with endometriosis, massage therapy has proven very beneficial in reducing pain. They can also help with reducing uterine spasms. During your next massage therapy session while on your period, ask your massage therapist to focus on your abdomen. At Altru, we have two great massage therapists on staff who can assist you with cramps and relieving them.
7. Switch from caffeine to non-caffeinated beverages
Caffeine is known to make your blood vessels narrow. As a result, cramps can become more painful. We know it’s hard giving up caffeine for a few days, but switching to decaf temporarily can help relieve period cramps.
8. Try heating pads on your abdomen
Applying heat to your abdomen can help your muscles relax and increase blood flow to your abdomen. A heating pad is not the only source of heat that can decrease pain. Hot showers or bubble baths are also powerful remedies.
9. Do Some Physical Activity!
Physical activity is excellent for relieving pain and easing cramps. For example, a few situps, crunches, leg exercises, a yoga session, or a quick jog can significantly relieve pain in your abdomen. And it makes you happier!
10. Cut Out Any Daily Stressors
Stress can only add to the pain we are feeling during our periods. One of the best ways to reduce stress is first to remove anything causing you stress in your life.
11. Start Taking Birth Control
For individuals who experience periods with severe pain levels, birth control prescriptions may be the answer. Sometimes, cramps can be caused by a hormonal imbalance, and birth control can help restore that balance by evening out your estrogen and progesterone levels. Talk to your OBGYN about some options.
Relieving Your Painful Periods at Altru Integrated Health
We may not be your OBGYN, but we offer various services that can help you relieve your period pain. Once you visit a health professional and receive a planned treatment, contact us!
We offer massage therapy, acupuncture, nutrition planning, therapeutic exercise, yoga, and mindfulness classes. All of these services are included in an integrated health plan at our facility.
If you experience frequent period pain and need a customized plan to help you manage that pain, contact us at Altru Integrated Health for a FREE consultation.
After your initial assessment, our staff will set you up with a personalized plan that allows you to visit with one or all of our specialists so you can get to feeling better.