For most of us, our monthly menstruation is an unwelcome guest that often brings along with it a whole slew of other issues, from PMS to body aches, breakouts, and (ugh) the dreaded cramps.
Why do period pains happen?
Sexual wellness educator Andrea Tan explains, “During the period, the uterus contracts spasmodically to expel the mucous membrane that was formed for a possible pregnancy. This alone can cause pain. The contractions of the uterus are also controlled by the hormone prostaglandins. This hormone is a pain messenger and is also involved in inflammation, for example. The higher the prostaglandin level in a person’s body, the stronger the period pain can be.”
If you’re looking for ways to ease your cramps (apart from popping pills), we’ve got a handy round-up below that could aid in offering some relief. But of course, if you’re facing severe pelvic pain , you should always consult a doctor.
Endometriosis, for instance, is a body condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside of it, in places like the fallopian tube or ovaries.
1. Masturbation and sex
If you’ve ever had sex right before or during your period, you might find that it lessens the intensity of your cramps. During an orgasm, oxytocin, which is a natural pain reliever, is released. In the same vein, showing yourself a bit of self-love (aka masturbation) can also help with cramps.
In a 2020 worldwide clinical study, sex tech company Womanizer recruited 486 women to masturbate during their period instead of using their usual pain relief methods for three months, then revert back to their usual methods on the fourth month.
Participants reported a reduction in pain intensity from an average of 6.7 points to 5.4 points after the testing phase. The frequency of period pain decreased as well, from an average of 7.4 points to 4.6 after three months of menstrubation (menstruation during period).
How does this work?
According to sexual wellness educator Andrea Tan, “Masturbation can have positive effects on health and general well-being. Looking at the physical aspect alone – after climax, the hormone dopamine is released, which activates an inner bliss. In this way, other physical processes tend to take a back seat, which in turn is similar to pain relief. At the same time, the metabolism and blood circulation are stimulated. Both counteract pain. Ultimately, when the muscles contract and release during masturbation, this creates a relaxing effect.“
2. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
As your time of the month approaches, include more anti-inflammatory omega-3 rich foods in your diet. These include the likes of salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, and dark leafy greens, which help decrease inflammation and reduces prostaglandins – aka less pain.
Ginger is another anti-inflammatory food and an age-old remedy that can help ease cramps rather quickly (tried and tested by this writer), especially if you’re after a natural solution other than popping pills.
A hot cup of ginger tea doesn’t just feel soothing when you’re feeling crummy, but the Zingibain enzyme found in ginger also helps inhibit the body’s levels of pain-causing prostaglandins.
3. Yoga and meditation
If menstruation pains make you want to curl up in a ball, consider making for the yoga mat instead.
Yoga may provide relief from common menstrual complaints like cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), with various poses or asanas believed to alleviate pain by stretching muscles that may be tensed when you’re on your period.
Stress is often associated with the worsening of cramps, thanks to the releasing of a hormone called cortisol that causes muscles in the uterus to further contract. And in this instance, yoga or meditation could help in calming those frazzled nerves.
4. Work out
Apart from yoga, other forms of exercise can help with your period woes. We get it – working out may seem like the last thing you want to do while you’re on your period.
But exercising helps decrease the level of prostaglandins as well as boosts blood circulation — when blood circulation through your uterus is poor, excess blood can build up in the uterine veins, causing them to swell and lead to pain.
Exercise also releases endorphins, which lower the perception of pain. While we’re not saying you should be checking into that HIIT class when you’re in pain, low-impact aerobic exercises like brisk walking can be helpful. You’ll also want to start exercising a few days before your menses are due to help ease the cramps.
5. Apply heat
Think period pains and hot water bottles often spring to mind. Another age-old trick to tackle cramps is using heat.
Heat treatment works by relaxing and easing the contraction of muscles to provide much-needed relief. There’s always the good ol’ hot water bottle, as well as modern electric heating pads or heat patches that are handy when your cramps arrive while you’re on the go.
6. Track your period pain and symptoms
Be it heavy flows, severe pains, or moodiness, tracking your period dates and symptoms can be helpful whether you’re headed to the doctor’s office, or making lifestyle changes like exercising or changing your diet before Aunt Flo comes to town.
Your doctor might also be able to point out fixes to help with period irregularities.
You can do it manually, or subscribe to the various apps that are targeted at helping women keep tracking of their monthly cycles. One for instance, is tech giant Apple’s Health app on iPhone or the Cycle Tracking app on Apple Watch.
You can log a period day, symptoms and spotting, as well as add factors that can influence your cycle, like pregnancy, lactation, and contraceptive use.