Period Cramps: What's the Deal? And How to Relieve them Naturally!
Updated: Aug 28, 2022
That dreaded time of the month, needn't be such a burden! Let's explore what exactly are period pains and how to deal with them, naturally.
If you are reading this, you are probably familiar with this type of pain that comes during a period of roughly once a month. For those who aren't - lucky you!
For some of us the pain is mild and somewhat bearable but still annoying! For others the pain can be more severe and can cause us to want to just curl up and cry 😭 Some months we may be fine, others not so much - it can be difficult to predict if this time around it will be a 'good period'.
Note: If your cramps are severe or debilitating, I urge you to seek medical attention as there may be an underlying cause that should be dealt with promptly.
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Dysmenorrhoea - what is it?
Have you ever come across this word before? In all honesty, before I started my herbalism journey and despite having a scientific background - I had never (it goes to show you how little topics like this are discussed)! This is the clinical term for painful periods.
Period pain is the cramping or heaviness one feels in their pelvic area (due to uterus contracting or tightening) and can extend to the lower back, upper legs and stomach. People typically experience period cramps just before or during bleeding of each cycle and it can last anywhere from a few hours to the entirety of menstruating. Pain can range from mild to severe.
What is considered 'normal period pain'?
Despite period pain being quite common (about 80% of women will experience dysmenorrhoea), it is not actually normal! As women, when we are on our periods, we just think that period pain is a given and a burden we have to carry as part of the package of menstruation. While some mild discomfort is expected - I mean our uterine lining is shedding - painful periods can suggest other diseases or underlying hormonal imbalances or even something that needs addressing in the body, like a deficiency. It is therefore important to ensure quick responses so that the root cause is dealt with.
Pain is NOT normal, if you were to experience pain any where else in your body - you would check in with yourself to see what could be causing it. The same should be done with period pain, it is your body's way of telling you that something is not quite right, so check in with yourself.
Causes of period cramps...
Dysmenorrhoea is divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Wait... there are 2 types? Yes, there is :) Who would have thunk it?
Primary dysmenorrhoea (which is the focus of this article), is the pain due to the period itself. The cause is due to a hormonal imbalance leading to an increase in prostaglandin production. This is an inflammatory-inducing hormone. Although it is normal and necessary for your uterine lining to release this as it prepares to shed (it helps the uterus to contract and relax), an excess amount can lead to strong contraction, decreased blood flow to the uterus and therefore a lack of oxygen supply leading to pain. OUCH!
People who have an increase in inflammatory markers in the body tend to be predisposed to period pain as well. So be sure to be generally healthy - avoid smoking and alcohol consumption.
Let's briefly touch on secondary dysmenorrhea, which is pain due to another underlying condition, like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids etc. Keep an eye out for future articles looking more into these.
Medicines for period pain (that will be suggested but I don't recommend)
Many healthcare professionals will recommend for you to go on a hormonal contraceptive but in all honesty, this is not the answer! Remember, I said that pain is your way for your body to tell you something is up? Well, all that the pill does is mask the pain and doesn't get to the root cause, all the pain will come back when you come off it. We don't want that!
So now what?! Do I just pop a pain pill and get on with my day? That is an easy option but be aware regular use of pain killers can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome and a healthy gut is needed for hormonal balance.
The natural remedies that you came for...
I am assuming you came to this page not only for some extra knowledge but also for some herbal remedies, I am after all a herbalist...
I have to firstly say that it is important to ensure that you have a balanced diet and lifestyle because that means your hormones are likely to also be balanced! See how that works? Eat well, your body needs nutrients like magnesium to help with period pain; exercise, which helps with circulation; reduce stress, we want relaxed muscles; and get some good sleep, so that your hormones don't go out of whack! Treat your body well and your body usually sorts itself out!
Herbs are great allies and can help when our bodies are just not cooperating or we need that extra boost. So let's take a look at some herbal remedies for easing period pain:
This wonderful warming/stimulating herb helps with circulation and contains ~6 anti-cramping compounds which are key in lowering the prostaglandins hormone. Not only that, but if you suffer from irregular periods it can help to make them regular. 😲 Seriously give it a try!
Tip: have it as a nice warming tea with some cinnamon for added stimulating effects.
- Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
As the name suggests, this herb works as an antispasmodic and is great at relieving cramps. This is due to the presence of some active ingredients which work at relaxing the uterine muscles as well as a weak-acting precursor to salicylic acid (used in aspirin), but is much less irritating to the mucosal membranes of the gut.
Tip: dose cramp bark little and often until the cramping subsides.
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This calming herb works by regulating inflammation in the body, relaxing blood vessels to improve circulation and eases tension, particularly if stress-induced. Just like ginger, it can also help to alleviate scanty periods, making that time of the month, well... come at that time of the month! 🙂
Tip: drink throughout the month, not just when your period arrives - lemon balm is a great calming tea!
- Marigold or Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
This vibrant orange flower, is not only pretty to look at, but is great at easing pain and cramps during menses. It helps to reduce inflammation and relaxes muscle tension and spasms.
Tip: use this wonderful flower in conjunction with yarrow to further induce relaxation of the uterus.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Another great herb for easing menstrual cramps and pain due to its antispasmodic properties. Not only does it do that but it also helps to support a normal inflammatory response, a healthy hormonal balance and reduces excessive bleeding.
Tip: use also the essential oil - clary sage diluted with a carrier oil and massage into lower abdomen.
WOW! There are actually plenty of natural alternatives to over-the-counter pain meds, which are much friendlier and gentler on the body... HOORAY!!! 🙌 As people who menstruate, we need not suffer and dread our periods.
Enjoyed this post? Then please share and leave a comment below with what herb you have tried or are going to try to help ease period pains?