Because bad cramps are the WORST. Thing. Ever.
When that time of the month comes around, we all give a collective groan.
While we all dread the monthly bloat, mood swings, cravings, tender bits and emotional stages of dealing with our periods, and some of us are unlucky enough to experience PMS symptoms so severe they can cause depression, there’s one thing most of us fear more each menstrual cycle than anything else; period pain.
Around 80 per cent of us experience menstrual cramps at some point in our lives, and half of those of us that do experience it every month.
The wrenching, dull (and sometimes piercing) throbbing pain we’re all painfully accustomed to, happens as a result of contractions that help our uterus shed its lining when our bodies realize it’s not needed to protect a baby each month. Hormones which trigger the body’s inflammatory response – called prostaglandins – prompt these contractions; so if you have more severe cramps, chances are you have higher levels of prostaglandins, too.
Unfortunateky, one in 10 of us experience pain so severe it disrupts our ability to go about our everyday life and even may require time off work. And perhaps even more frustratingly, those that of us that do seek help often find doctors are quick to dismiss menstrual-related pain as ‘all in our heads‘.
(As an aside, if you’re experiencing this kind of debilitating menstrual pain, it could be a sign of something more sinister, like endometriosis, and you should seek out a doctor who understands and can test you.)
So if you’re struggling to deal with your period pain, and your employer isn’t gracious enough to offer period-pain leave, here are nine hacks to help you get to work without buckling over in agony on the way…
1. Heat it up
Heat helps to calm the contracting muscles in your uterus, so applying a hot water bottle, relaxing in a warm bath, or applying any heat to the abdominal area can greatly reduce any pain. In fact, researchers at University College London found heat treatment actually blocks the pain messages from being sent to the brain, and a 2001 study in Evidence-based Nursing found heat therapy is just as effective as an anti-inflammatory pain-killer at reducing cramping pain. Winning!
2. Watch what you eat
Your diet can play a huge role in dictating how severe your cramps are. Increasing your vegetable intake and reducing fatty foods could reduce the severity of period pain, according to a UCLA article published in 2000. Drinking more water will also help to reduce cramping pain as well as general PMS symptoms like bloating and fatigue. Eating healthy might seem impossible with all of the chocolate cravings you have to battle against when your period arrives, but thankfully dark chocolate is not only okay, it’s beneficial too. We lose magnesium when menstruating, and 70 per cent cacao, which is rich in magnesium, can help to replenish your supply quickly and deliciously, as if we needed another health reason to get our chocolate on.
3. Have an orgasm
Before an orgasm, the uterus is relaxed and less likely to contract, and as you hit the big ‘O’, blood flow increases and can reduce cramping. The additional release of endorphins will deliver an instant feel-good hit, relax your body and induce sleep. Whether you do it with your partner because they are totally okay with period sex, or go it alone and masturbate, having an orgasm will greatly reduce your menstrual pain.
Similar to an orgasm, exercise can be an amazing natural way to reduce period pain. A 2015 study found the endorphins your body releases during aerobic exercise help to reduce menstrual pain. Yoga is a great option when you’re surfing the Crimson wave as it gently stretches the muscles, with little impact, so you still release the endorphins with very little work. So even though the thought of exercising when you’re in so much pain sounds terrible, it might be worth it in the long run.
5. Get your vitamins
Fueling your body with the right vitamins is another way to reduce pain come period time – especially vitamin E, omega 3 and calcium. The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study showing that women who took vitamin E supplements twice a day during their periods for four consecutive months reported lower pain than they had experienced before. On top of this, if women consume 1200mg of calcium around their periods, it can cut symptoms in half. In the same way, fatty acids and omega-3 help to prevent the frequency of period symptoms and regular intake can reduce pain, so stock up on those vitamin pills, ladies.
6. Sleep more
Ah, music to the ears of a cramp-sufferer. Our sleep cycles tend to be disrupted when we have our periods, and the National Sleep Foundation found 30 per cent of us don’t get enough sleep while we’re on our periods. This can make us more irritable and less likely to eat well and exercise – which can both diminish the pain. As an extra bonus to ignoring the alarm, we’re less likely to feel cramps if we’re asleep. (If you need some help getting extra shut-eye on your period, you can try these foolproof sleep methods.)
7. Pop a painkiller before the bleeding starts
A very simple hack – if you suffer from chronic period pain, you can take a pain-killer. An anti-inflammatory pill like ibuprofen will soothe menstrual cramps significantly by lowering prostaglandin production. But rather than wait till midway through your first day of bleeding when you’re bent over in your chair at work clutching your stomach in agony, start popping ibuprofen once every 6-8 hours one to two days before your bleeding starts. Doing so has been found to dramatically lower prostaglandin levels, as opposed to waiting till they’re already sky high, which will actually make your period painkillers much less effective.
Acupuncture involves gently piercing the skin with tiny needles in order to stimulate the body at certain points. It can relax the nervous system and increase flow to the internal organs, having an anti-inflammatory effect. A 2011 study examined the effects of acupuncture on period cramps and found it actually reduced the pain level for those who tried it. The authors of the study did acknowledge more evaluation would be needed to be absolutely certain of the results, but many women in numerous studies claim it helps them with their menstrual cramps.
9. Birth control
Birth control is a way to help control and manage periods, but it can also have an effect on the severity of period pain. Oral contraceptive pills can help relieve period pain when all else fails, but often come with side effects like spotting and blood clots, so it’s important to do your research and weigh up your options with your doctor first. For longer-term contraception with beneficial results on period pain, an intrauterine device (IUD) significantly reduces the amount pain and bleeding of each period. Both of these methods can reduce the amount of cramping, and as a result, greatly reduce your pain.
Images via tumblr.com, giphy.com.
Comment: What are your period pain hacks?