Your period can be painful, and it can be crippling for some, leaving them feeling hopeless. We are here to explain what causes period cramps and how to get rid of period cramps, so your cycle won’t hold you back.
What are period cramps?
Period cramps are when the wall of your uterus tightens or contracts. They are essentially muscle spasms that are encouraged to help the uterine lining shed and start your period. When your uterus contracts, it will then compress the blood vessels that line your uterus. This will temporarily cut off the blood and oxygen supply to your uterus. When this happens, your body will cause the tissues in your womb to release chemicals that unfortunately trigger a pain response.
These chemicals are called prostaglandins and they are found inside the uterine lining. As they begin to shed, more are released to cause the uterus to contract. The more prostaglandins that are released, the more severe the cramping will be. When you have high levels of prostaglandins, you can also have nausea and diarrhoea, but fortunately, prostaglandins are lowered after the lining is shed, which is why you usually only have cramps for the first few days of your period, or when it is at its heaviest.
Oestrogen and Progesterone
Oestrogen and progesterone are two hormones that can help to regulate your menstrual cycle. These hormones can fluctuate and cause a host of symptoms that worsen period cramps or cause things like breast tenderness and pain, headaches, skin issues, bloating, and nausea. They can also cause depression, as serotonin levels will drop and cause anxiety, confusion, changes in libido, mental fog, and mood swings. If these hormones fluctuate too greatly, or get too low and you see extreme symptoms, you should visit your doctor to let them help you ease symptoms and regulate your hormones.
What can cause pain during periods?
Period pains can last longer than those first few days, and there can be other pain-causing culprits than just prostaglandins. It’s annoying, it hurts, and it can be downright debilitating. There are many factors that can contribute to causing pain during your monthly cycle, and the severity and length can depend on what exactly is causing the pain.
Period pain caused by medical conditions
There are common medical conditions that can cause period pain that can be worse than the average. If you suspect your period is causing you extreme pain, hindering your everyday life, or lasting far longer than a traditional period (5 to 7 days), you should talk to your doctor. You could have a medical condition that causes your period symptoms to worsen, such as:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Ovarian Cysts
Period pain caused by contraceptive devices
Believe it or not, but contraceptive devices can worsen period cramps and other symptoms. An intrauterine device, more commonly known as an IUD, is a method of contraception, made from copper or plastic, which is implanted inside the womb. It is usually left in place for about five years, but this timeframe could be longer depending on the type of device inserted. Unfortunately, having an ‘alien’, or foreign, device in our body can cause unpleasant side effects for certain people. It can make periods heavier and cramping more intense, although these side effects decrease after six months with most users.
How long should period pain last?
Period cramps usually start when your bleeding begins, but for some it can come days before their period starts, and for others, it can start days after. So don’t worry if it’s not ‘on time’ with your bleeding. The pain usually lasts from the first two to three days, but it can extend through your entire period and will probably be at its worst when your flow is the heaviest. When period pain does not have an underlying cause - as already mentioned with medical conditions or contraceptives - it should improve as you get older, and if you choose to have children, it is likely to improve as well.
What could happen if I see a doctor?
Always see a doctor if you have sudden changes to your periods - like irregularity, heavier-than-usual bleeding, periods that are lasting longer than they usually do for you, or if you experience extreme or severe pain during your period. Depending on what symptoms you have, your doctor could recommend a host of treatments for your abnormal period cramps. They might decide a pelvic examination is in order to diagnose the cause, and then they may prescribe contraceptive pills, or a course of injections that can ease period cramps, skip periods, shrink cysts, or they may prescribe antibiotics to treat PID. They may refer you to a specialist to rule out underlying medical conditions or surgery to remove fibroids, cysts or help with scarring. You should never be scared to see a doctor; they are there to help and ease whatever symptoms or pain you might have.
5 things you can do to relieve period cramps
As experts in period products, we’ve compiled a list of five things you can do to help ease your period symptoms. Some may surprise you, but they do work, and it’s totally worth the try! If your symptoms persist outside of the norm, or are excruciating, you should talk to your doctor.
Have an orgasm
Surprise! Whether you are going solo, or getting help from a partner or a friend, having an orgasm on your period can help with reducing period cramps, and with other things as well. When you orgasm, your body releases a rush of dopamine and serotonin which are natural pain relievers in the body, which can also improve your mood! In addition to the endorphins, oxytocin is also released into the body, which is linked to feelings of sleepiness, which may help with a better night's sleep. If you want to stay mess free, try using our menstrual cup for no leaks during play.
Limit certain foods
When you’re getting close to your period, you should avoid certain foods because they can make period symptoms worse. Caffeine causes the narrowing of blood vessels which can intensify cramps during your period. Eating refined sugars and carbs can make it harder for your body to balance and produce hormones too and can also cause bloating by making your body retain sodium and water. Fatty foods increase prostaglandins, and we know what happens when we get more of those!
Take a bath or use a heating pad
A study from 2004 found that using heat to treat period cramps helps to reduce inflammation and decrease fatigue and lesson mood swings as well. Using heat therapy can be more effective than taking over-the-counter medicines too. So, bundle up with something warm asap!
Yoga for period cramps
Doing yoga to ease menstrual cramps can be an awesome solution in reducing pain, as it stretches the pelvis, hips, back, and other areas where we hold on to a lot of tension which can worsen during our monthly cycle. Here you can find three yoga poses for period cramps.
Acupressure is like acupuncture, but instead of relying on puncturing, it uses pressure applied to specific points on the body to help regulate pain. You simply press, then massage, certain areas to help reduce pain, inflammation and induce relaxation. Why not pair it with some essential oils, and a bath afterwards, for a great night of self-care?