Doctors aren’t sure why some women experience painful menstruation and others don’t. But some factors that are associated with more intense pain include:
- having a heavy blood flow
- having your first child
- being under the age of 20, or just starting your period
- having an overproduction of or sensitivity to prostaglandins, a hormone that influences your womb
Other factors include growths in your womb, endometriosis (abnormal uterine tissue growth), and use of birth control.
Read on for tips on getting fast relief and learn how to potentially lessen the pain during your next cycle.
1. Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the primary over-the-counter (OTC) form of pain relief recommended for menstrual pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
These drugs help lower your body’s production of prostaglandin. NSAIDs aren’t as effective as oral contraception, but they can help reduce pain.
2. Applying heat
Applying heat to your abdomen and lower back may relieve pain. A 2012 study focused on 147 women 18 to 30 years old who had regular menstrual cycles found that a heat patch at 104°F (40°C) was as effective as ibuprofen.
If you don’t have a hot water bottle or heating pad, take a warm bath or use a hot towel. Or you can make your own heating pad:
- Cut and sew together two pieces of fabric, leaving a hole at the top.
- Fill with uncooked rice and sew up the hole.
- Microwave for a few minutes to the desired temperature. Don’t overheat!
- Let cool, if necessary. Or wrap your homemade pad in a towel to reduce heat transfer. Reuse as necessary.
3. Massaging with essential oils
Massage therapy for about 20 minutes can help reduce menstrual pain.
Massage therapy for menstruation involves pressing specific points while the therapist’s hands move around your abdomen, side, and back.
Watch this video for a tutorial on massaging for menstrual pain:
Adding essential oils for an aromatherapy style of massage may have additional benefits.
The group who used essential oils experienced a significant reduction in amount and duration of pain. The researchers used a blend of lavender, clary sage, and marjoram oil in this study. You can buy a scented massage oil with similar ingredients or make your own.
You should always dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil. Examples include vegetable or nut oils such as grapeseed or sweet almond oil. A safe concentration is one drop of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil.
4. Having an orgasm
While there are no clinical studies on the direct effect of orgasms on menstrual cramps, science suggests it may help.
Vaginal orgasms involve your whole body, including your spinal cord, which signals the release of neurotransmitters. A vaginal orgasm can trigger your brain to release neurotransmitters such as endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins can decrease pain perception.
Dr. Barry Komisaruk, a psychology professor at Rutgers University who studies the female orgasm, told the BBC, “Vaginal orgasms [are described] as being internal and involving the whole-body; that’s probably because the nerves that carry sensations from the clitoris are different from the nerves from the vagina.”
His 1985 study with Dr. Beth Whipple was the first to find that vaginal self-stimulation doubled women’s tolerance for pain.
5. Avoiding certain foods
During menstruation, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that cause bloating and water retention. Some of the biggest culprits include:
- fatty foods
- carbonated beverages
- salty foods
Reducing or cutting out these foods can help alleviate cramps and decrease tension. Instead, try soothing (caffeine-free) ginger or mint teas or hot water flavored with lemon. If you need a sugar fix, snack on fruits such as strawberries or raspberries.