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Effective Ways to Relieve Period Cramps: 19 Recommendations from OB/GYNs


Experiencing menstruation is a normal occurrence within your menstrual cycle, and regrettably, it can be accompanied by period cramps. Although these cramps are widespread, it is entirely understandable to desire maximum comfort during this period. While seeking medical advice for severe cramps is crucial, if your cramps are manageable but still uncomfortable, medical professionals suggest several methods to alleviate the pain.

Why do period cramps happen?

To comprehend the optimal approach for managing period cramps, it is essential to delve into their underlying causes. According to Dr. Lauren Streicher, a clinical obstetrics and gynecology professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, the release of prostaglandins, chemical compounds associated with pain and inflammation, occurs when you have your period. These prostaglandins induce contractions in the uterus.

The purpose of uterine contractions is to aid in the expulsion of the uterine lining, commonly known as period blood, which accumulates during your menstrual cycle. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that the first day of your period is characterized by high levels of prostaglandins in your body. However, as your period progresses, the prostaglandin level decreases, resulting in reduced pain sensations.

Dr. Christine Greves, a board-certified OB/GYN at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, Florida, explains that higher levels of prostaglandins are typically associated with more severe period cramps.

Foods that can help with cramps.

Medical professionals suggest that incorporating nutritious foods into your diet can be beneficial for alleviating period cramps. During that time of the month, you may want to consider including the following options:

1. Salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon helps reduce inflammation in the body. Dr. Jennifer Lew, an OB/GYN at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, explains that omega-3s can block prostaglandins, thus reducing period cramps. Consuming a serving of salmon, particularly when your prostaglandin levels are highest at the beginning of your period, may provide relief.

2. Dark green leafy vegetables: Vegetables like spinach and kale are not only sources of omega-3s but also help counteract the impact of prostaglandins on your body. Dr. Lew suggests incorporating these vegetables into salads or adding them to various dishes for added benefits.

3. Bananas and potassium-rich foods: Bananas, known for their potassium content, can help alleviate muscle cramps. Dr. Lew explains that potassium depletion can worsen cramping, making foods rich in potassium essential. Consider adding a banana to your morning smoothie for an extra boost.

4. Calcium-rich foods: Research has linked calcium consumption to a reduction in cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. A study found that individuals who consumed 500 milligrams of calcium daily experienced fewer emotional changes, anxiety, depression, water retention, and bodily changes during their periods. Enjoying yogurt as a snack can be a way to incorporate calcium into your diet and reap the benefits.

5. Oats: Magnesium, found in oats, can help reduce cramps. Dr. Lew explains that magnesium relaxes the smooth muscle of the uterus and reduces the prostaglandins responsible for menstrual cramps. Consider starting your day with a bowl of oats to assist with cramping.

Drinks that can help with cramps.

Similar to food, there is no magical drink that can instantly alleviate your cramps. However, consuming certain liquids may provide some relief. Consider trying the following liquid remedies:

Water: Although it may seem basic, ensure that you're adequately hydrated by sipping enough water. Dr. Lew emphasizes that well-hydrated muscles are easier to manage, as insufficient hydration can worsen cramping. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend women to consume approximately 11.5 cups of fluids from both food and beverages per day, and during your period, you may want to aim for even more.

Chamomile tea: While there is no conclusive evidence that chamomile tea directly reduces menstrual cramps, Dr. Lew suggests that these teas are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, which could potentially alleviate pain. Additionally, chamomile tea may help relax an upset stomach.

Exercises & yoga poses that can help with cramps.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) specifically recommends incorporating regular exercise into your routine to find relief from cramps, emphasizing that physical activity aids in the production of pain-blocking chemicals. The following exercises can be helpful:
  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Swimming

"Exercise, in general, enhances blood flow and the release of endorphins, which is believed to contribute to the reduction of prostaglandins and pain relief," explains Dr. Lew.

Additionally, certain yoga poses can help stretch and provide relief. Dr. Greves highlights the following poses as particularly helpful:

  • Downward dog
  • Child's pose
  • Reclined twist
  • Corpse pose (savasana)

Other things you can do to relieve cramps.

According to doctors, there are various medications and lifestyle remedies that can provide relief from period cramps. These include:

  • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can effectively alleviate period cramps. Dr. Wendie Trubow, a functional OB/GYN, explains that taking NSAIDs 48 hours prior to the onset of cramping can be most effective. By blocking the secretion of prostaglandins during that critical period, the intensity of cramping can be reduced.

  • Hormonal contraceptives: Combined hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills or contraceptive rings, inhibit the body's production of prostaglandins by preventing ovulation. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a gynecologist, highlights that prostaglandins are primarily produced during ovulatory cycles. Therefore, using hormonal contraceptives can be beneficial in reducing prostaglandin levels and alleviating cramps. Dr. Trubow also mentions that hormone-releasing IUDs may provide similar relief.

  • Heating pad: Applying heat using a heating pad or hot water bottle is a popular option for many individuals to alleviate menstrual cramps. Dr. Lew recommends this low-cost and low-risk approach, which has the potential to improve symptoms.

  • Bodywork: Dr. Trubow suggests that acupuncture and other forms of bodywork may be beneficial for women to try in managing period cramps.

  • Magnesium: Dr. Trubow also recommends magnesium, which can contribute to overall muscle health. Adding Epsom salt soaks or foot baths, as well as taking oral magnesium supplements, can help alleviate cramps.

Please note that it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new medication or treatment.

Knowing When to Consult Your Doctor Regarding Your PMS Symptoms.

Intense cramps can indicate an underlying condition such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). "If your period cramps significantly impact your lifestyle, it's important to discuss it with your healthcare provider," advises Dr. Greves.

Dr. Streicher concurs and emphasizes that severe pain should not disrupt your plans or hinder your ability to work. She affirms, "Experiencing excruciating pain should not result in missing out on activities or being unable to fulfill work responsibilities."

If you are uncertain whether your period cramps are reaching a concerning level, Dr. Greves recommends seeking guidance from your doctor regardless. It is better to consult and address any doubts or concerns about your symptoms with a healthcare professional.

In conclusion, when faced with period cramps, there are several options available to find relief. However, if you continue to experience difficulties, it is advisable to consult your healthcare provider. They will be able to assist you in determining the appropriate next steps.

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