Studies suggest that up to 90% of women who menstruate suffer with period pain every month. The symptoms – stomach cramps, backache, headache and nausea – can range from mild to crippling. And most of us don’t really talk about what we’re going through.
Despite living in an era where most subjects are discussed with frank, sometimes alarming openness, there’s still a reticence to talk about the details of period pain. Why? It’s hardly a rare or new condition, or an admission of female weakness. Women should feel free to speak normally about being pushed to the limits of pain. Period pain is here to stay and it affects everyone!
The symptoms of period pain
Your period pain may be mild, but for others it can be so severe that, as one friend put it, they have a ‘monster chewing on their insides’.
The pain generally starts shortly before or during a menstrual period, in the lower abdomen and often in the hips, lower back or thighs. The pain may be spasmodic, with sharp pelvic cramps at the beginning, or a deep, dull ache. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, lightheadedness and general achiness. The symptoms generally peak after 24 hours and subside after two to three days.
What causes period pain?
Painful periods have a medical name – dysmenorrhoea – which means ‘difficult monthly flow’. There are two types:
Primary dysmenorrhea, the most common form of period pain, is probably caused by too many prostaglandins, hormones that make your uterus contract during menstruation and childbirth. The pain may result from contractions of your uterus that occur when the blood supply to its lining (endometrium) is reduced. The pain will be worse if your uterus tilts backward instead of forward, you get little or no exercise, you’re stressed, you smoke or drink alcohol, are overweight and starting menstruating before you were 11. Although painful and sometimes debilitating for a while, primary dysmenorrhea not caused by an underlying problem such as a gynaecological disorder. This is the type that’s common among teenage girls and tends to fade as they mature.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is generally related to some kind of gynaecological problem or condition ranging from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and intra-uterine device to fibroids (non-malignant tumours that grow within the uterine wall or are attached to it), endometriosis (an infection of the fallopian tubes that can also affect the ovaries, uterus and cervix) and an ovarian cyst or tumour. Treatable with medications and surgery, secondary dysmenorrhoea is more likely to affect women during adulthood.
Ways to prevent and treat period pain naturally
While your healthcare professional may prescribe painkillers or hormone medications, there are loads of natural remedies that can be just as effective to ease period pain.
- Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and a heating pad or hot-water bottle on your abdomen or lower back.
- Relax in a warm bath.
- Massage your abdomen gently.
- It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, but mild exercises like stretching, yoga, walking or biking can improve blood flow and reduce pelvic pain.
- Rest and avoid stressful situations, even if you have to take sick leave from your office.
- Before your period starts, cuddle up with your partner. An orgasm relaxes uterine tissue and releases endorphins, which instantly help you feel better.
- Feverfew. According to natural medicine writer Joshua Rogers of naturalalternativeremedy.com, ‘Feverfew may be a useful herb to have around to help ease menstrual cramps … it could help restrict how much prostaglandin is being released. There’s probably no harm in beginning to take feverfew a day before you expect your cramps to start, though more study is needed to be certain of this.’
- Drink chamomile tea.
- A study showed that Ginger is as effective as ibuprofen in relieving pain from menstrual cramps.
Flora Force has a range of herbal remedies designed especially to support the female hormonal system and to ease PMS and period pain. Phyto-mone™ (for pain and heavy bleeding), Dong Quai (which has phyto-oestrogenic properties and is especially helpful for women who suffer from both PMS symptoms and period pain), Buchu (for pain and bloating) and Mexican Wild Yam (to relieve cramps and pain). Other natural remedies include chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), which encourages progesterone release, and evening primrose ( Oenothera biennis), which helps relieve breast tenderness, mood swings and fluid retention.
Also read our blog PMS: How does premenstrual tension affect your life?
Check with your medical practitioner before taking any supplements in case they are contraindicated.