Menstruation is no walk in the park. Nearly every woman has had one of those periods where it feels like your uterus would be better off if it just fell out! As you menstruate, your abdominal muscles contract, making you have cramps and generally feel uncomfortable. Moreover, some of those cramps can feel downright painful, leaving you in agony and unable to function in your daily life. It’s not always easy to feel better, but there are a few things you can try to reduce the severity of your cramps.

Heat Things Up

Applying a heating pad to your lower abdomen or lower back can help relieve cramping associated with menstruation. The heat will help relax your muscles and reduce cramps, meaning you’ll be more comfortable. There are several types of heating pads available, from single-use pads to reusable pads to electrical heating pads. Electrical heating pads are the most expensive, but you won’t have to buy it over and over, as with the single-use pads. Reusable pads typically require heating in the microwave and cool over time, so they may not provide heat as long as you’d like. Each type has its own drawbacks, even the electrical pad, because you’ll be anchored to a single spot while it’s plugged in.

If there’s no heating pad available, you can also soak in a hot bath. The hot water will help relax your entire body and might help you sleep more soundly. Any type of consistent heat will help ease your cramps.

Exercise

While getting up and moving may seem like the worst sort of punishment when you’re on your period, it can actually do a world of good in relieving your cramps. You don’t have to do anything too strenuous; even a walk will get your blood pumping. A leisurely bike ride or relaxing swim can also be very beneficial. Once your circulatory system is working more, your muscles will be getting more blood flow, helping to relieve cramping. An added bonus is that exercising increases your energy levels.

Say No to Caffeine

It’s tough to give up your coffee, but it may be one of the best ways to reduce cramping during your period. Caffeine increases your heart rate and can cause your muscles to be more tense than normal. Instead of relaxing, as you might want to do, you’ll be more alert and your cramps will be more intense. Removing caffeine will allow your body to relax and make your cramps less extreme.

Stay Hydrated

Your body primarily made up of water. If you don’t stay hydrated, your body isn’t going to work the way it’s supposed to; being dehydrated can make your cramps much worse. If you just can’t stomach drinking a lot of water every day, there are lots of flavored waters available, both plain and sparkling; always go for the ones without added sugars and avoid those with phenylketonurics (present in aspartame, a diet sweetener) if you suffer from phenylketonuria. If none of those options appeal to you, you could try drinking decaffeinated or herbal teas to help stay hydrated.

Medicines

There are many very effective medications to help manage pain during your period. Most of them are available over-the-counter, meaning that you can buy them at your local drug store or grocer. Look for medications labeled NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These kinds of medicines work for about 70% of women in reducing the pain they experience from their cramps. NSAIDs are pain relief medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin. If over-the-counter medications don’t work, your doctor may prescribe something stronger.

If you find that NSAIDs don’t work for you or you’re not able to take them, another over-the-counter option is paracetamol, which has been shown to be less effective than NSAIDs in relieving pain from cramps but has few side effects. If paracetamol is not working well enough, your doctor may also prescribe a companion painkiller.

For women who need contraceptive protection, as well as relief from menstrual cramps, your doctor may decide to prescribe a combined oral contraceptive pill. These not only reduce the likelihood of getting pregnant, they also make the lining in the uterus thinner. This reduces your body’s production of prostaglandins, resulting in less forceful cramping during menstruation. A side effect is that your periods will likely be much lighter. Some women are not able to tolerate the combined oral contraception pill; they may still benefit from contraceptive injections or implants.

Relaxation Techniques

Doing relaxing activities like Pilates or yoga can help take your mind off the cramping associated with your period. The gentle stretching action of yoga can help relax your muscles and relieve cramping, while the concentration required by Pilates can occupy your mind and body, leaving no room to think about cramps.

A gentle abdominal or lower back massage can also help relieve cramps. Use a light and gentle circular motion to get the greatest effect from an abdominal massage. You can also try combining heat with massage for even greater relief.

A transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) machine delivers small pulses of electricity through pads which are stuck to your skin. Pulses from the TENS machine, when applied in the correct areas, can help block the pain from your cramps. You can get a TENS machine from most pharmacies; they are easy to use in the privacy of your own home.

Medical Concerns

If you’ve been suffering with a lot of cramping for three months or more while using medication to relieve your pain, your doctor may decide you need to see a specialist. This is to rule out any medical conditions which may be contributing to the severity of your cramps. If you are found to have an underlying condition like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), fibroids or endometriosis, you’ll be treated according to your diagnosis. Fibroids typically require surgery, while PID is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. Other treatments vary according to the severity of your diagnosis.

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