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When the pain strikes, you’re likely to try everything possible to figure out how to stop period cramps. Do muscle relaxers help menstrual cramps? Special teas? Any home remedies? Whether or you’ve got your personalized toolkit ready or not, you’re probably also wondering, “is this normal?”
The short answer is yes. But what causes them? And how does knowing that help us figure out what can we do to relieve period cramps?
Are Menstrual Cramps Normal?
Most people who menstruate experience cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, at some point in their lives. Menstrual cramps can range in severity, but they are typically caused by contractions of the uterus. The severity of cramps can vary from person to person and can even vary from month to month. Some menstruators will have mild cramps that are barely noticeable, while others have severe cramps that can be quite debilitating.
When looking to understand how to achieve cramp relief, here are some key terms to know.
Key Terms to Know:
Dysmenorrhea: This is the medical term for menstrual cramps.
Prostaglandins: Prostaglandins are hormones that are produced by the body and are involved in the process of menstruation. They can cause uterine contractions, which can lead to cramps.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are medications used to reduce inflammation and pain, like ibuprofen or Advil. They can be effective in the short term at reducing the severity of menstrual cramps.
Endorphins: Endorphins, chemicals produced by the body, act as natural painkillers and can also help to improve mood.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
Contractions of the uterus cause cramps. The uterus is a muscle like any other with the ability to contract and relax. These contractions can occur as a result of hormones called prostaglandins.
Prostaglandin cause the smooth muscle of the uterus to contract. The severity of cramping that occurs can vary depending on the amount of prostaglandin produced, as well as the sensitivity of your uterus to the hormone. Some people may experience cramps only during the first few days of their period when blood flow is at its highest, while others may have cramps throughout the entire duration of their period.
Cramps can be a symptom of normal hormonal fluctuations. If severe or debilitating, however, check in with your medical provider about the potential of underlying medical conditions, like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or uterine fibroids.
How To Find Relief—Fast!
There are several ways to try to reduce the severity of cramps:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help to reduce cramps, as well as lower stress levels.
- Over-the-counter pain medication: NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help by reducing inflammation and blocking the production of prostaglandins.
- Heating pads or a warm bath: Applying heat to the lower abdomen or back can help to relax the muscles and can have similar effects to how muscle relaxers work for painful cramps.
- Get plenty of rest: Fatigue can make period pain worse.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Try to limit your intake of these substances during your period, as they can make cramps worse.
- Try relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help to relax the muscles and reduce cramping.
- Consider prescription medication: If you have cramps that interfere with your daily activities, your doctor may recommend birth control. Birth control pills can help to regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce the severity of cramps.
If you are still experiencing severe cramps despite trying these remedies, don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare provider. They can help to identify the cause of your cramps and recommend appropriate treatment.
Does Sex Ease Cramps?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that sex will help to reduce the severity of cramps. Some people find that orgasm temporarily increases cramping due to the uterine contractions that occur during orgasm, while others find that orgasms relax these contractions.
In addition, you may find that the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals) during and after sex help to alleviate pain and improve mood.
It is important to remember that every person is different and what works for one person may not work for another. It is ultimately up to you and your partner to decide what activities you feel comfortable with during your period. Take time to find remedies best suited to your needs and investigate further if no relief can be attained.
- Dawood, M. Y. “Dysmenorrhea and Prostaglandins: Pharmacological and Therapeutic Considerations.” Drugs, vol. 22, no. 1, 1 July 1981, pp. 42–56, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6790261/, https://doi.org/10.2165/00003495-198122010-00003.
- “I’m Often Aroused during My Period. Is It Okay to Masturbate?” Www.plannedparenthood.org, www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/ask-experts/will-anything-happen-if-i-masturbate-while-i-am-on-my-period-because-it-seems-i-am-extremely-aroused-while-im-on-my-period-or-about-to-start-2.
- Information, National Center for Biotechnology, et al. Period Pain: Overview. Www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG), 1 Aug. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279324/.