Although you might never look forward to that
time of the month, regular menstrual cramps
can make your period a drag — or even a
debilitating pain in the back, literally. These
strategies can help bring relief.
Turn up the heat. Take a hot bath, or place a
heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower
belly, just below your belly button, suggests
Sherry Thomas, MD, MPH, a gynecologist at
Los Angeles-based Mission Community
Hospital. Those stick-on heat packs that you
can find on drugstore shelves can work, too, if
you don’t have time to sit at home. Heat
opens vessels and improves blood flow, so
K.O. the caffeine. “We advise patients who
have a lot of menstrual cramps and PMS
symptoms to limit caffeine,” says Bart D.
Putterman, MD, an ob-gyn at Texas Children’s
Pavilion for Women in Houston. That means
no coffee or tea (unless it’s decaf) and no
caffeinated sodas, energy drinks, or chocolate.
Caffeine can constrict blood vessels, which can
cause cramps. Dr. Putterman says that some
women may find proactively avoiding caffeine
is best, but certainly avoid caffeine when
you’re having a rough time.
Go herbal. Red raspberry leaf tea might reduce
cramps, says Tosha Rogers, DO, an ob-gyn in
the Atlanta area. It may decrease bleeding,
which can mean less cramping. “Have a cup in
the morning with breakfast or before you go to
bed in the evening,” Dr. Rogers says. Avigael
Barnett, 27, of Brooklyn, N.Y., says that cramp
bark and black haw work for her cramps,
which can get as bad as being in full labor. “I
know it’s time to take some more when I feel
pain coming back,” Barnett says. She likes the
herbs because she doesn’t feel like “I’m
drugging myself up — it’s natural.” But there
is no good medical evidence that these herbs
are helpful for most people with cramps, and
the possible dangers of using them are not
known, so you should check with your ob-gyn
before trying them. For women who get water
retention along with cramps, dandelion tea
can be a great herbal remedy, says Sara
Chana, a classical homeopath and registered
herbalist in Brooklyn.
Indulge in aromatherapy massage. Massages
with lavender oil might be able to significantly
reduce pain, a study of Turkish students with
menstrual cramps published in the journal
Pain Management Nursing found. Another
study, done in Taiwan, found that acupressure
of the ear provided relief from cramps in teens.
Massage also helps you relax, Chana says,
adding that “the more tense you are, the more
you can cramp.”
Swing by the drugstore for OTC relief.
Researchers at Brown University recommend
trying non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs) for at least three months to see
whether they provide relief from cramps.
Options include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin,
Nuprin) and naproxen (Aleve or Midol
Extended Relief). These NSAIDs probably are
most effective if you start them as soon as
you feel any kind of cramping and continue
taking them until the time when your
cramping normally stops, Putterman says.
Talk with your doctor about prescription
meds. If over-the-counter NSAIDs don’t help,
there are prescription-strength versions that
your doctor can prescribe, Putterman says. If
your pain is really debilitating, your doctor
may recommend oral contraceptives for cramp
relief — several studies have confirmed that
oral contraceptives also work to relieve cramp
Get moving. Putterman recommends regular
aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up
and makes you break out in a sweat. “The
better shape you’re in and the more physically
active you are, the less likely you are to suffer
from chronic aches and pains, including
menstrual cramps,” he says. Exercise also
releases feel-good hormones known as
endorphins. “They don’t take away your pain,”
he says, “but they can make it so you don’t
care you have the pain.”
Bend and stretch with yoga. Yoga is high on
Dr. Thomas’s list of remedies that provide
relief from cramps. Poses that target the
pelvis and lumbar region, where period pain is
the worst, may be the most helpful.
Experiment with different yoga poses for pain
relief, and talk with a yoga instructor about
what might work best for you.
When to Stop Going It Alone
Although you might be able to relieve your
cramps with these remedies, don’t ignore your
pain if it doesn’t go away or if it becomes
more severe than normal. The following
symptoms could be warning signs of a more
serious health issue and merit a call to your
Your pain lasts longer than you’re
accustomed to. “If your pain doesn’t go away
when your period stops, you should seek
medical help,” Putterman says.
-You have a fever.
-You start vomiting or feel nauseated.
-You’re bleeding more heavily than normal.
-You think you could be pregnant.
You don’t need to suffer from menstrual
cramps each month. Try these remedies and
consult with your doctor to find what works
best for you.
written by Dr evelyn