Menstrual cramps suck. It’s uncomfortable, exhausting, and debilitating.
Menstrual cramping, or “dysmenorrhea”, affects many women to varying degrees. Some women experience mild discomfort during their time of the month, while others experience more severe symptoms.
A quick google search shows me that pain killers and hot packs are the most common PMS solutions. Unfortunately, this might not be enough for many women, and if you’re like me, I try to avoid over-the-counter pain medication when I can.
There are many natural ways to ease menstrual pain! Here are my top five.
1. Prepare for your period
Personally, dysmenorrhea is something that has affected me since my first period. It has prevented me from going to school, seeing friends, and even just feeling like a normal human being at times.
Most women typically experience a monthly hormonal cycle, so we usually know when our periods will arrive. We can experience physical discomfort, changes in mood, and cravings for various foods. Some women also experience swelling in their extremities, gastrointestinal upset, and tenderness in the breasts.
It’s helpful to keep track of your cycles so that you can prepare for your upcoming menstruation. There are many apps that you can use for tracking your period. Personally, I use one called “period tracker”... simple enough. What I like about this app is that over time, when you’ve accumulated enough data, the app will get better and start predicting when you are expected to have your period. So far, it’s been quite accurate.
Knowing when you expect your period is key to proper preparation.
If I know my period is coming, I do the following:
I avoid planning long and stressful meetings that would require me to sit down for long periods of time.
I prepare foods that can help with the discomfort and GI upset, some of the many symptoms of PMS.
I make sure that I leave room in my schedule for many movements breaks, naps, stretching, and breathwork.
I make sure my favourite comfy period outfit is washed and ready for me to wear (be honest...we all have one!)
2. Breathwork and Organ Massage
Yep! The uterus is an organ and it resides in the space where many other organs reside, in the abdominal cavity. All these organs are housed in a network of tissue, blood vessels, lymphatic tissue, nerve endings, and muscles. There’s a lot going on there so when it’s that time of the month, not only do you feel uterine cramping, you might feel other types of GI discomfort and tenderness in areas like your low back or hips.
In order for our organs to function optimally, we need to make sure we’re delivering adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients to them, as well as removing waste and mobilizing adhesions that can form in the intricate network of tissues surrounding the organs.
How do we do this? BLOOD! We need to make sure that our organs are receiving unrestricted blood flow to deliver this oxygen, nutrients, and carry away waste products. Luckily, over many years of evolution, the human body has a beautifully designed mechanism in place to help manage this.
With optimal breathing patterns, the diaphragm expands down with inhalation lower into the abdomen. This movement creates an increase in pressure inside the abdominal cavity, moving the organs around. This movement is like a gentle massage that helps deliver air, nutrients, and blood to your digestive and reproductive organs. Think about making bread! We can pour water over flour, but we’ll never be able to mix the ingredients together physically massaging the ingredients into each other.
Unfortunately, our modern way of life has changed the way many people breathe. Breathing is something we must re-learn and practice. The better we breathe, the happier our organs become, and when our organs are happy, they are less likely to send out pain signals and cause discomfort.
Check out this great video by Dr. Melissa West on diaphragmatic breathing for digestion.
3. Gentle Movement and Exercise
Movement and exercise work to alleviate cramping in two ways:
Improving the delivery of blood to internal organs (the same way breathwork does)
Releasing endorphins which help with pain relief and mood improvements.
Everyone is different, so the intensity of your workout should mainly be guided by how you are feeling, what you can tolerate, and what ultimately feels best for you.
Here are some examples of gentle activities that I like to do when I’m on my period:
Balance Beam Training
Endorphins are naturally produced in your body when you exercise. These endorphins are chemically similar to opioids, which helps with mood and pain.
Personally, my cramping gradually gets worse with time and peaks on the second day, so I try to recognize early signs of discomfort and start moving. It’s difficult to exercise when the cramping is at its peak, so it’s best to be proactive when we can.
Applying heat externally can be very helpful for menstrual pain because, like movement and breathwork, it promotes an increase in blood flow to the applied area. You can apply heat to your lower abdomen and low back to improve blood flow to your reproductive organs.
Here are some ways you can turn up the heat:
Microwavable bean bag
Warm baths or showers
Electric heating pads
Hot water bottles
Warm, damp towels
Although this one isn’t quite a movement tip, I think it’s important to mention. Menstruation is a physically exhausting and uncomfortable time for your body. Ultimately, it’s another stressor on your body, which means that it’s going to be difficult to operate at the capacity that you normally do and that’s totally OK!
Be kind to your body and allow yourself to rest during this time. Lay on your couch, take a nap, or watch a movie. You deserve it!
I hope these tips were helpful to you. If you’re interested in learning more about incorporating movement into your day-to-day routine, you can book a FREE consultation with me here.