Menstruation
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5 Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps

Painlessly surf the crimson wave.

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By Olivia DeLong

"That time of the month” can bring a lot of pesky symptoms, like breakouts, irritability, anxiety and stomach problems, to name a few. And more than half of women who menstruate have cramping, otherwise known as dysmenorrhea, for at least one or two days a month, too. Most of the time, menstrual cramping is totally normal—a result of natural chemicals made in the lining of your uterus, called prostaglandins. 

And while cramping is common before menstruation, if you're hunched over in pain, it can be pretty hard to go about your day. Luckily, there are lots of ways to minimize that achiness.

There are two kinds of dysmenorrhea

2 / 6 There are two kinds of dysmenorrhea

First things first: your dysmenorrhea can either be primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is cramping that typically begins in the teenage years, soon after a woman’s first period and around the time ovulation becomes pretty regular. The pain usually comes a day or two before your menstrual flow begins, and lasts for a couple of days. Primary dysmenorrhea often gets better as you age, especially after childbirth.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by reproductive conditions like endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease, and lasts longer than primary dysmenorrhea. This type of pain starts a few days before your periods begins and often lingers after it stops.

OBGYNs can determine the cause of your dysmenorrhea based on your history, an exam and tests, such as an ultrasound. But no matter which type you have, here are some ways you can keep menstrual cramping at bay.

Get moving

3 / 6 Get moving

The benefits of exercise are endless—you know that regular workouts can lengthen your life, lower your risk of heart disease, help you maintain a healthy weight and so much more. And some evidence suggests working up a sweat can also ease menstrual cramps.

Exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, but you should give it a try because there’s a good chance you’ll feel better afterward. Workouts that engage your mind and body, like yoga and tai chi, are proven to help reduce pain. A good rule of thumb? Strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity or a combination of both every week. If you’re able, try squeezing in strength training two days a week, too.

Pop an OTC pain reliever

4 / 6 Pop an OTC pain reliever

You might already head for the medicine cabinet when you feel cramping coming on, and you’re right to do so. Over-the-counter pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen, can reduce the amounts of pain-causing prostaglandins.

It’s best to take these medications when you start to have pain, or as soon as your period begins. You’ll usually only need to take them for one or two days. Steer clear of NSAIDs if you have certain conditions like bleeding disorders, asthma, an aspirin allergy, liver damage, stomach problems or ulcers, since these medications can worsen them.

Take a warm bath or use a heating pad

5 / 6 Take a warm bath or use a heating pad

In general, cramps are caused by contractions; it's thought that heat can reduce those contractions and increase blood flow. It's also believed that heat therapy activates certain heat receptors in the uterus, which helps reduce pain, as well. 

That may be why a warm bath can help you get rid of menstrual cramps. As if you need another reason to relax, go ahead and fill your tub with warm water—hot water can dry out the skin—drop in some Epsom salt and your favorite bubble bath, and spend a few minutes enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s likely your cramping will improve as you soak. 

Placing a hot water bottle or heating pad wrapped in a towel on your lower abdomen is another way to soothe your discomfort. And consider an OTC medicine, too; some studies show that using heat with ibuprofen may help ease your pain more quickly.

Discuss birth control options

6 / 6 Discuss birth control options

If you have painful menstrual cramping, especially cramping that’s caused by endometriosis, your OBGYN may suggest birth control, either a combination of estrogen and progestin or just estrogen. When you’re on birth control, your uterine lining, the area where prostaglandins are made, becomes thinner; as a result, pain-causing uterine contractions and bleeding may lessen. 

The Pill, birth control implants, injections, a vaginal ring or the hormonal intrauterine device can all be used to alleviate major cramping. Talk to your OBGYN about the birth control option that’s right for you and your symptoms. 

Menstruation

Menstruation

The menstrual cycle can vary from women to women. Some get their period on the same day every month, while others have irregular cycles, a heavy flow, painful cramps or PMS. Learn more about menstrual problems from our experts.