Period pain can be debilitating. 4 in 5 people with periods will experience period pain in their lifetime. 1 in 5 people experience pain bad enough to disrupt their day-to-day functioning. On average, we lose 18 weeks of our lives to cancelling plans and taking time off work or school.
VUSH’s sexpert, Steph, is here to take you through Period Pain 101: Everything you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and remedies for menstrual pain.
What is Period Pain?
Period pain, medically known as dysmenorrhea, is any sort of pain associated with periods. This pain can come in a variety of forms. Each person with a menstrual cycle will experience menstrual pain differently, and some won’t have any pain (and yeah, we’re not jealous at all).
Period pain without an apparent cause is primary dysmenorrhea, while period pain caused by reproductive conditions such as endometriosis or adenomyosis is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea. We’ll go more into causes later.
Period pain can also include Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which occurs in the days leading up to the period. For some people, PMS is the most painful time, and the actual period pain is not as significant.
Period Pain Symptoms
One of the main period symptoms is menstrual cramps around the abdomen. This type of cramping can also occur in the lower back, pelvic area, and legs. People sometimes also experience a continuous, dull ache in any of these areas.
Other symptoms can include sore boobs, bloating, headaches, nausea, and fainting. Periods can also alter your bowel movements. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one experiencing period diarrhoea, constipation or random shooting butt pains.
Period pain can affect your mood too. Irritability is commonly associated with periods, especially during the premenstrual phase. Some people feel their emotions are heightened before or during their period. If you’ve ever felt irrationally emotional, then had the penny drop the next day when your period comes, well, same.
What Causes Period Pain?
Period pain is common, but not normal. Menstrual pain, in combination with irregular, light or heavy periods, is often the result of a hormonal imbalance. To find out if your hormones are a little out of whack, speak to a doctor and get a blood test.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal reproductive health condition. PCOS can lead to cysts on the ovaries, enlargement of the ovaries, and an overproduction of testosterone and male sex hormones. Due to this hormonal imbalance, symptoms can include acne and oily skin, weight gain, and increased facial or body hair.
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, such as the abdomen or pelvis. People with endometriosis can have painful periods due to this inflamed and misplaced tissue.
Some people experience cramping when they first start new birth control. However, this should ease off once the body becomes used to the contraception. Most birth control methods should ease period pain and regulate periods, not exacerbate things.
How Long Does Period Pain Last?
While a period lasts 3–7 days, period pain generally lasts between 1–3 days. However, it is different for everyone. Some people experience pain in the days leading up to their period, while others spend a whole week in pain.
Based on data estimating period pain for 2–3 days a cycle, we spend 18 weeks of our lives cancelling plans due to pain. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Period Pain Home Remedies and Treatments
There are plenty of home remedies to reduce period pain. Home remedies are cheap and easy alternatives to painkillers and medication. You probably already have access to everything you need at home! Here are some examples:
There’s a reason every person with a period owns a hot water bottle or heat pack. Heat can be very soothing for many types of pain. A hot water bottle on the tummy or lower back can help relax the muscles and relieve pain and discomfort. Additionally, a warm shower or bath might be just what you need during your period. Plus, it’s self care.
Instead of resenting your body for bringing you pain during your period, why not treat yourself to some gentle touch? Massage is a great way to connect with your body during your period, a time when we generally neglect our bodies. The menstrual phase of the cycle is the perfect time for rest and self care. Whether you’re booking in with a professional, getting your partner to give you some love, or giving yourself a gentle massage, massage can reduce uterine cramping. Adding some essential oils to the massage can be an extra stress relief.
Intentionally or not, you’ve probably already done some form of yoga on your period by melting into the foetal position or lying in savasana. The cobra position, lying side twist position, and cat-cow movement can be very soothing for period pain. Some light cardio like a gentle walk or jog can also help reduce period pain. Exercise helps because it releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. However, your body does need rest during your period, so it might not be the time to smash a new workout routine or reach new PBs.
One of the reasons orgasms make you feel so fabulous is because of the hormones they release. Oxytocin and dopamine are feel-good chemicals. The increased blood flow associated with orgasm is also a source of pain relief. Arousal from sexual activity encourages blood flow to the pelvic area, where period pain often lives. Biology aside, sex can be a fun distraction from any discomfort. If you’re not a fan of period sex with a partner, don’t forget, self pleasure and external clitoral stimulation are fun options too!
5. Reducing Stress
Stress can decrease your tolerance to pain and therefore make menstrual cramps worse. It’s also just a huge buzz kill and mood ruiner, which never helps in times of pain and discomfort. Luckily, some of our other suggested pain relief alternatives, like baths, massage, exercise, and orgasm, can double as stress relievers.
6. Hydration and Food
Increasing your fluid intake can help ease menstrual pain, so drink some extra water during this time. Herbal teas can be a really soothing form of period pain relief. Opt for anything with ginger, turmeric, chamomile, cinnamon, fennel, raspberry leaf, ginkgo or green tea.
Food also plays a role in pain relief. Magnesium rich foods such as greens, bananas, beans, and grains. Yes, (dark) chocolate has lots of magnesium too, so don’t hold back. Anti-inflammatory foods such as salmon and berries, and vitamin C from lemons and oranges, are great too. Maintaining an overall diet full of fruits and veggies, omega-3 fatty acids, lean proteins, wholegrains and high-fibre foods can prevent period pain in the first place.
Commonly used to provide relief during labour pains, TENS machines can also be used to manage period pain. Our period pain relief device, Aura, is the perfect natural solution to menstrual pain. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines send electro pulses across the skin to stimulate the nerves and block pain signals to the brain. They even release endorphins!
When To See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing debilitating menstrual pain that stops you from going about your day-to-day life, chat to your doctor about the likelihood of having endometriosis, adenolysis, or PCOS. If your period pain bothers you at all, see a doctor. Just because you think others have it worse doesn’t mean you have to live with your pain. Remember, period pain is common but not normal. You deserve to live a pain-free life!
Since diet can impact period pain, we also recommend seeking out a dietician or naturopath. A healthy diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on your menstrual cycle, so it can be helpful to take a holistic approach to easing period pain.
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