Period pain and cramping is natural, though in most women it should be relatively minor, an inconvenience more than a debilitating problem. If cramping and pain lasts for a long time or is extremely painful or debilitating, consider talking to a doctor. Conditions such as endometriosis can cause much worse pain and should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
That said, any pain is pain, any discomfort is uncomfortable. Just because pain isn't as bad as it could be or cramping only lasts for a couple days doesn't mean you have to tough it out. You can take steps to minimize or ease the pain with natural remedies. Here's a list you can go through and try.
Keep in mind that everyone has a different body and will react differently to different treatments. If some of these don't work for you, that's fine; others may. Keep trying until you find something that works.
1. Light Exercise
Exercise is perhaps the most natural remedy of all. Getting a little bit of exercise in your day helps stimulate your metabolism and your immune system. It also releases endorphins in the brain, which promote health and well-being. Some hiking, running, swimming, or yoga can go a long way towards easing period pain. More intense aerobic exercise helps with PMS symptoms as well.
2. Heating Pads
One of the most well-known treatments for period pain is heat. Heat therapy, from a heating pad or a heading patch, can be a nicely targeted form of pain relief that doesn't require disrupting your schedule.
Don't just keep the heating pad on your stomach, either; applying heat to the lower back promotes circulation and helps generate internal pain-relieving substances. Heat therapy alone has been found to be as effective, if not more effective, than typical OTC NSAIDs.
3. Hot Bath
A hot bath works the same way as heating pads as a form of heat treatment, but better overall. Total body warmth spreads the pain-relieving effects. Steam and some bath treatments or bath bombs can give you a pleasant scent that helps relieve other symptoms as well, such as headaches. The only downside is how disruptive a long, hot batch can be on your schedule. It's not something you can just do in the middle of the work day, eh?
4. Sexual Activity
Sexual pleasure and, in particular, orgasms can have surprisingly beneficial effects on period pain. For one, it increases blood flow to the uterus and more generally to the entire body. It releases chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and oxytocin, both of which help relieve pain. It might be a little messy, but the benefits are high.
5. Minimize Alcohol
Alcohol can have a range of negative effects on the body, even if it temporarily dulls the pain and makes you feel better.
The accompanying effects of a hangover, potential alcohol poisoning, liver damage, dehydration, and a range of other side effects outweigh the potential benefits. Generally it's a good idea to avoid alcohol in most circumstances, but extreme drinking in particular.
6. Minimize Smoking
Smoking is extremely bad for your health no matter who you are, but in particular it can have drastic negative effects on period pain. It stifles blood flow and decreases oxygen saturation, and the vasoconstriction that accompanies it can cause pain on its own, or exacerbate existing pain. That's not to mention all of the toxic chemicals present in tobacco and combustion.
7. Minimize Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant and vasoconstrictor, which is beneficial for energy but detrimental in a lot of other ways. It makes cramps and period pain worse, and it can cause headaches and other associated pain as well.
During your period – and for a few days before, to wean off of the drug – you should stop drinking coffee or sodas, minimize incidental caffeine in things like chocolate, and stop taking any supplements that use caffeine as a primary ingredient.
8. Acupressure or Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a traditional pain remedy that is poorly studied and may or may not work for everyone, but it may be worth a try. If you're not into the idea of having someone stab a bunch of needles into your body at pressure points, acupressure can serve a similar function. Hitting those pressure points with targeted, deep massage – and even just a more general massage – can do a lot to relieve pain.
9. Get More Rest
Sleep, in particular regular hours of sleep at night, are very important for health and healing.
Period pain is made worse by stress, and a combination of beneficial effects like yoga, massage, and sleep can serve to reduce it by quite a bit. The more stressed you are, the more your body needs to recover, and sleep is a crucial part of that recovery.
10. Reduce Sugar Intake
Menstrual cycles wreak havoc on the sugar levels in your body, and consuming more sugar does nothing to solve the problem. Sugar fluctuations can lead to a whole host of problems, including pain and headache, as well as stress that makes pain worse. Minimizing sugar intake can help stabilize your blood sugar and thus minimize pain. Plus, it's good to cut back on the sugar anyways.
11. CBD Oil
CBD oil is extracted from cannabis and is quickly becoming more prevalent as it is legalized across the United States. People often claim it can do pretty much anything, and while many of those effects have not been studied, one that HAS been studied is some anti-inflammatory properties. CBD oil can be as effective as NSAIDs at pain reduction, though you need to make sure you're getting real CBD and not a diluted, ineffective replica.
Chamomile is a great little plant that is often found in teas, which are themselves great to drink during your period.
Chamomile itself has anti-inflammatory properties and can assist with relaxation, which helps minimize stress. It also includes the chemical glycine, which has been shown to be effective in reducing muscle spasms that contribute to cramping.
In addition to being an anti-inflammatory, cinnamon can help with a variety of different PMS and period pain symptoms. It's not as effective as a pain-relief drug on its own, but in conjunction with other treatments on this list, it can have a beneficial effect. Try to look for cinnamon supplements, or get cinnamon from several different sources, to make sure you get enough of it to have an effect.
Ginger has often been touted as something of a miracle root, which makes us skeptical of all of its various benefits. While it can't cure cancer or remove plastics from the ocean, it can certainly help some with pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Like cinnamon, look for a supplement that provides enough of it to have a clinical effect.
A supplement that contains 30 milligrams of Fennel extract, taken four times a day, three days prior to the onset of period pain – yes, that's a lot of qualifications – has been shown to reduce pain across the entire duration of the cycle.
How, exactly, fennel works is still a mystery, but it has some effect beyond that of a placebo, so it might be worth trying, especially in conjunction with other supplements and remedies.
Dill is another herbal source of anti-inflammatory properties and has been tested against natural NSAIDs and against placebos. It has been shown to have a beneficial effect when taken in a large enough dose, up to two days before the start of your menstrual cycle. Remember to get enough dill; just sprinkling some on your dinner won't have much effect.
17. Vitamin E
Vitamin E has been shown to have pain-relieving properties for menstrual pain, though it's not without its risks. Taking a vitamin supplement can be beneficial, but keep an eye out for the signs of side effects, particularly heavy bleeding or an exacerbation of other diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, or retinitis pigmentosa. Like herbal remedies, take your vitamin supplement starting two days before onset of your period.
18. Vitamin B1
Vitamin B1 is a powerful vitamin that helps regulate muscle contraction. As such, there are strong indications that sufficient B1 can help reduce the pain associated with cramping. You're unlikely to have an actual deficiency, but getting more B1 from your diet – from cereal, beans, fish, lentils, or other sources – or from a supplement, can help reduce period pain.
19. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is a crucial vitamin for a variety of different bodily processes. It helps regulate hormones in the body such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which can help with mood and stress.
This helps with the emotional symptoms of menstruation as well as some of the physical symptoms. A supplement is readily available.
20. Vitamin D
Produced by the body in reaction to sunlight, or taken as a supplement, Vitamin D helps with all sorts of different bodily processes, including hormone regulation. You aren't going to be getting much of it from food sources, typically, so it's best to just spend some time outdoors, or get a supplement.
Omega-3s are a superfood as far as the body is concerned. In addition to helping with blood pressure and nutrition, it can minimize period pain through anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oil is an easy supplement to get, or you can simply eat more fatty fish like salmon or tuna in your diet.
Calcium is necessary in the body for strong bones, but it also helps maintain muscle tone and has some other, less well understood benefits on the body.
Finding calcium through dietary sources, primarily dairy, can be highly beneficial. Alternatively, look for a calcium citrate supplement, which the body can absorb more readily than pure calcium.
Pycnogenol is an extract from a pine bark, but it can also be found in other ways, such as from grape seeds, peanut skins, and the bark of the witch hazel. It has a wide variety of potential benefits, one of which may be the reduction of period pain and cramping.
Magnesium is a mineral your body needs in relatively low amounts, but it's essential to get enough of it. Studies have indicated that it can help reduce period pain and cramping. Be careful taking a magnesium supplement, however; it can interact negatively with certain kinds of medications, including antibiotics, and in large doses has a laxative effect.
Berries are a good source of a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants in spades.
They can help with blood sugar by providing a source of sugar that isn't refined or processed. They also include enough water to help a little with hydration.
26. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals, are light on calories, and often include a range of beneficial nutrients. Getting enough vegetable matter in your diet is important, and leafy greens in particular can have a lot of beneficial effects throughout the body.
Tomatoes are a good source of nutrients that your body can use to help reduce period pain and cramping. They also include plenty of lycopene, which is a great nutrient. Tomatoes can be eaten in a salad along with your leafy greens, or as a soup, or in another preferred preparation. No, pizza doesn't count.
28. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are another good vegetable to eat to help with period pain.
They're high in water content, they're rich in fiber, and they provide plenty of nutrients such as potassium, while regulating sodium in the body.
Relatively unknown in the United States, Chasteberry is frequently used for menstruation in the UK, and it is native to central Asia. It has been used as a supplement to help with menstrual problems, and while its full effects are unknown, it can be worth a try.
30. Drink More Water
Hydration is the king of all healthy habits. Virtually no one drinks an appropriate amount of water today, so getting plenty of water in your diet helps your body regulate itself much more readily. Think of it as a multiplier; everything else on this list is made that much more effective by drinking more water with it. Incidentally, this is part of why tea is so good for you.