As wonderful as it is to be a woman, there’s no denying that having a period once a month is no fun, especially if they are painful. Having to deal with the bloating, the food cravings, the crazy unexplained emotions, the regular cramping, the breakouts, and the bleeding is bad enough, but add to that list “intense pain” and it can become almost unbearable.
Most women have some pain during their period. The pain is often mild but, in about 1 in 10 women, the pain is severe enough to affect their day-to-day activities. The pain can be so debilitating that it forces them to miss out on things like school, work, and social gatherings. This pain and difficulty before, during, and even after the menstrual cycle is known as “Dysmenorrhea”.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea literally translates to “difficult period”. Each month when the uterine lining sheds as menstruation, the uterus must contract. In women with dysmenorrhea the contractions are very painful. The uterus may even spasm. Pain can be localized to the lower abdomen, but it can also be in the lower back, in the vulva, as well as radiating down the thighs. This wave like pain can often be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The pain can begin up to 24 hours before menses begins and usually lasts for the first 48 hours once menses begins. In some women the pain may last up to 72 hours once the menstrual cycle begins.
Dysmenorrhoea usually requires special prescription pain medication as opposed to the general tablets that most women take during this time of the month. This can be hard on the system and isn’t always healthy or the female body to be ingesting so much of this medication each month. Although it is important to follow the instructions that your doctor gives to you in terms of pain relief and medicine, there are alternatives to these treatments that you may not be aware of.
Primary or Secondary Dysmenorrhea?
If you think you may have dysmenorrhea it is important to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about this. It is important to rule out if what you are experiencing is actual Primary Dysmenorrhea, or Secondary Dysmenorrhea.
Primary Dysmenorrhea means that it is the first and only issue, whereas Secondary Dysmenorrhea means there is another health issue causing or contributing to the painful menstruation. For example; Secondary Dysmenorrhea is often caused by endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroids. There may also be other factors that are causing pain that may also need to be ruled out, such as IBS, constipation, UTI, ect. If you know that you have other fertility issues that are the underlying cause of your menstrual pain, it is important to address those issues as well. While it is always easier to treat pain acutely (when it is happening) rather than address the root cause, it is very important to find out what is causing the pain in your body.
How to Decrease Menstrual Cramp or Dysmenorrhea Pain
Below are a few natural remedies to help treat menstrual cramping and dysmenorrhea when it is happening, but also remedies and mind/body practices to consider long term to help relieve your menstrual cramp pain forever!
First of all, getting adequate nutrition every day should be top priority. Considering that Dysmenorrhea is an inflammatory state in the body, it is important to avoid foods that increase inflammation response. High glycemic foods are known to increase levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body. Doctors, naturopaths, and herbalists all agree that an anti-inflammatory diet is important to help with reducing period pain.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates.
- Stick to whole grains like oats, millet, brown rice, quinoa, etc. Eat only 3 servings of grains at most a day.
- Eliminate sugary foods and processed sugar.
- Consider eliminating dairy. Dairy products are congesting to the body and many doctors have seen a reduction in menstrual cramp pain in women who eliminated dairy products.
- Reduce red meat and egg yolk consumption to at most 2-3 times a week. This is because both red meat and egg yolk are high in arachidonic acid (AA). This has been found to increase cellular inflammation in some people.
- Choose organic free range meats and eggs when possible to avoid added hormones.
- Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables- especially dark leafy greens. They are essential for mediating muscle contractions, they are mildly cleansing, and have a mild diuretic effect, which can reduce bloating.
- Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine, especially from coffee, is a well-known vasoconstrictor – which means it makes blood vessels constrict. Indeed, it may cause the vessels that feed the uterus to tighten more than they do in non-coffee drinkers. If you’re a diehard coffee drinker and can’t cut it out entirely, try avoiding it just in the week before your period and see if you notice a change.
- Be sure to take a good daily multivitamin or prenatal multivitamin. This is very important for more than just menstrual cramping. This will help you to maintain adequate nutrition. Many women do not consume enough fresh foods, therefore our nutritional levels are lacking what our bodies need each day to function properly.
- Be sure to get enough Vitamin A through a natural whole food source is possible (for example: carrots). This will help to keep estrogen levels regulated.
- Magnesium and calcium are both known aid in muscle relaxation. It has been shown to reduce menstrual cramping greatly. Magnesium deficiency is a leading cause of menstrual cramps. You should aim for a total of about 500 mg of magnesium and 1000mg of calcium daily.
- Taking vitamin B-6, vitamin B-1, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil!) have all been known to reduce the inflammation and pain significantly during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Tried and True Remedies:
- Keep your body warm during your period, especially during the first day. The cold temperature can cause your muscles to contract and to have spasms. This can lead to menstrual pain and cramps. Thus, you have to keep your body warm. Wear a jacket, a pair of socks, and apply a warm compress on your abdomen.
- Massage the abdomen- either by yourself, or with the help of a professional, like massage therapist, Kelly, at Lilly Physical Therapy!
- Take a warm bath to reduce or even prevent the pain associated with your period. Using a heating pad on your pelvic area or lower back also works great.
- Exercise regularly. This is the most natural way to prevent dysmenorrhea. Studies show that ladies who have regular exercise experience lesser pain or even no pain during their menstrual period. Some of the effective exercises recommended for dysmenorrhea prevention are jogging, walking, swimming, and even aerobics. While exercising, the body is producing a natural pain reliever known as an endorphin. The most appropriate time for you to exercise is before your period and not during the red day.
- Try acupuncture: certain acupuncture points are thought to regulate blood flow through the abdominal cavity and relax the nervous system, which can help calm muscular contractions. Studies show that acupuncture is just as effective as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines for reducing pain.
- Find some time to relax. Relaxing is another method to reduce and prevent the pain caused by dysmenorrhea. There are several relaxation techniques that are very helpful in reducing pain. Some of which are yoga and meditation.
- Take an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen several days before your expected period (this should be used as a last resort, after trying all the natural remedies first.)
How Lilly Physical Therapy Can Help:
Reaching out to a physical therapist to help with your painful period is ALWAYS a good idea! At Lilly Physical Therapy we treat women who have not found pain relief for dysmenorrhea and who are sick of the debilitating pain they go through each month.
At Lilly PT we use a method called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, also recognized as TENS. TENS is delivered through the use of an electrical unit and tiny electrodes. The electrodes are placed on the skin through the use of adhesive pads, and bursts of mild electricity are delivered into the area where the pads are administered. These pulses of electricity are not painful, and in fact have been known to feel like a light tingling. The pulses/tingling suppress menstrual pain signals to the brain. TENS also encourages the body to produce higher levels of its own natural pain killing chemicals ie endorphins and encephalins.
The number of times you may need to use it throughout the course of your menstrual period may vary, and you should experiment with pad placement and the level of energy being used, but your physical therapist should be able to help you find the right level of pain relief for your body. Although these machines can be purchased online, speaking to your physical therapist about TENS and whether it is right for you and your other health factors is crucial.