Menstrual cramps are not “all in your head”. Dysmenorrhea is a condition that can ruin your day and make you feel miserable. Cramps are caused by the uterus contracting, which can cause the oxygen supply to uterine muscle tissue to be briefly cut off, which causes the cramping pain. Some women experience mild cramping that just makes them feel lousy while going about their regular activities. Other women experience debilitating pain, along with nausea, light headedness, and nausea. There a number of ways to deal with the pain, from medicines to movement.
Medication and Menstrual Cramps
Common pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen Sodium (both are NSAIDs) work well for cramps, especially if you start taking them early, ideally prior to the start of your period. Acetaminophen can also help to ease discomfort and is said to be less likely to cause stomach upset. In severe cases, some doctors will prescribe birth control pills to deal with really bad cramps. So, if you experience severe menstrual cramps month after month, you should see your health care provider. They can evaluate your symptoms and determine if there is a more serious underlying cause and can also prescribe medications you may need. But there is more you can do than just popping some pills.
Try a heating pad or hot water bottle applied to your lower abdomen or back (but you do not want to get burned, so make sure it is not too hot and do not fall asleep with it still turned on). Some women also take a warm bath. There are heat patches on the market now for menstrual pain. The patches are designed to conform to the lower abdomen, so the relief is right where you want it, soothing and relaxing the uterine area. There are some who prefer cold compresses to help lessen their discomfort, but heat is the more popular choice.
You may also want to try some herbal remedies. Chamomile tea has long been recommended for cramp relief. Scientific studies are now backing up the folk remedy, touting chamomile’s nerve relaxing properties. The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institute of Health in Rockville, MD, also lists Bilberry (a relative of the blueberry, and also known as huckleberry) as an herbal remedy that has been used for cramps (although they also say that there is not enough evidence to prove effectiveness). There are other common herbal remedies, including lemon Balm, raspberry and ginger. Eating a balanced diet can keep your body stocked with nutrients, as some believe that a lack of certain vitamins and minerals can bring on or worsen cramps.
Another way to alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps is massage. Massage relaxes the body and creates a sense of well-being. Abdominal massage can relax muscles and increase general circulation (although the impact of massage on blood circulation is often overstated). A gentle massage of the lower back can also work wonders.
There are also specialized massage therapies available such as Mayan Abdominal Massage although please be aware that those who advocate that massage can impact on fertility are likely to be exaggerating any benefits from massage. There is very little, if any, research that indicates that there is a direct positive relationship between abdominal massage and fertility.
Might seem counterintuitive that exercise can help with cramping but gentle movement and exercise may provide a distraction for the brain as well as increasing circulation. Obviously you are unlikely to want to do strenuous exercise but light exercise may provide some relief and release endorphins to reduce the impact of the dysmenorrhea.