When period cramps strike, you want relief as quickly as possible. Doctors suggest that the best way to soothe period pain is to take ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever. And while that’s not a bad idea on your worst days, you may not want to pop pills day after day, month after month.
Fortunately, medication isn’t the only way to soothe period cramps. To tame your pain, try adopting natural pain relief strategies. You can stick with these ideas alone or pair them with an occasional OTC pain pill.
#1) Heat Therapy
Using a heating pad on your aching back and belly is an old standby. There’s a reason that women have been doing this for so long: It works! The warmth helps your muscles relax and as a result, the pain may subside.
If you don’t have a heating pad, you can try a hot water bottle or even a warm washcloth.
#2) Green Tea
Gynecologists suggest that you can warm your muscles from the inside, too. Treating yourself to a cup of hot tea is a great way to try this.
Green tea may be the best type to drink during your period. In one study, women who drank green tea were the least likely to experience unpleasant cramps. Oolong tea came in second.
If you’ve ever needed an excuse for a massage, now you have one. A professional massage can help relax your whole body, including your tight uterus. Some massage therapists offer special period services, but you can also ask your regular therapist to focus on the affected area.
An at-home massage could make a difference, too. Use firm pressure as you rub massage oils onto your belly, or ask your partner to tend to your lower back.
#4) Physical Activity
It may be tempting to stay on the couch for your whole period, but getting up and moving can be one of the best ways to tackle cramps. Exercise provides a rush of endorphins that may perk you up on crampy, bloaty days.
That doesn’t mean that you need to push yourself toward high-intensity workouts during your period, though. It’s normal to feel worn out during your time of the month, especially on days with heavy flow. On those heavier days, stick with light to moderate exercises. Yoga, walking and swimming could be good options.
Also, it’s a good idea to keep up with exercise throughout the month. Women who work out regularly generally experience less cramping than those who don’t have a fitness routine.
#5) Fish Oil
Supplements containing fish oil may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain relievers for getting rid of menstrual cramps. In fact, some studies have shown it does a better job compared to ibuprofen.
One set of researchers compared the two approaches in college-age women. The participants who used fish oil took 1,000 milligrams of the supplement each day of their periods. The others treated their cramps with ibuprofen. The fish oil group experienced greater relief than the medication group.
You may benefit from a 1,000-milligram dose of this supplement as well, and you can take it up to three times a day. Just make sure you check in with your doctor before starting any supplements. Even OTC stuff can interact or interfere with any prescriptions you might be taking, so get a doctor’s green light before starting a new regimen.
#6) Vitamin B
Both B1 and B6 may be useful for treating muscle pain. Research has shown that B vitamins can relieve leg cramps. Studies have also demonstrated that vitamin B1 may be as effective as ibuprofen for women’s period cramps.
When adding this vitamin to your cramp-busting routine, your best bet is a B-complex supplement. If you’d prefer to stick with one variety, try 100 milligrams daily of B1. You could do 50 milligrams a day of B6 instead, but it’s best to use that vitamin only for short stretches. And as with any other supplement, ask a doctor before starting.
Period hormones can interfere with your body’s magnesium level. That’s too bad because magnesium plays a role in muscle relaxation. Plus, if you’re short on magnesium, you may feel more bloated during your period.
A magnesium supplement might help. Once or twice daily, take a 300-milligram dose. The best time to do it is right before bed. (And we hate to sound like a broken record here, but ask your doctor if you need a supplement before you take one.)
If supplements aren’t your thing, you can also eat foods that are rich in magnesium. Options include spinach, kale, salmon and avocados. Also, it’s not a bad idea to toss a handful of nuts on your morning yogurt or add pumpkin seeds to your trail mix.
#8) Dietary Changes
What you eat may play a large role in how you feel during your period. In addition to adding magnesium, you can also focus on foods that will reduce your estrogen and inflammation levels.
In general, that usually means eating more fruits, vegetables and whole foods. You may need to reduce your intake of animal products.
Aim for increasing your fiber, especially during your monthly flow. Fiber helps eliminate extra estrogen from the body. Whole grains and beans are good sources of fiber. You can eat vegetables like carrots, squash and broccoli for fiber, too.
Low-fat eating may also help your estrogen level decrease. You may be able to achieve that by consuming less meat, dairy and processed foods.
Trading animal products for plant-based ones may bring down the inflammation in your body as well. In one study, women who adopted vegan eating habits experienced less bloating, moodiness and cramping during their periods.
#9) Rest and Relaxation
Finally, be nice to yourself during this week. Period cramps can be rough. Yes, you should encourage yourself to move throughout the week, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go, go, go all day long. Give yourself opportunities to chill on the couch or turn in early one night. Your body will thank you for the break.
When Home Care Isn’t Enough
Natural remedies, either on their own or with OTC pain relievers, help many women get a handle on their period pain. Not everyone is so lucky, though. Don’t feel bad if these strategies don’t work for you. Take it as a sign that you could use some extra help.
If cramps are stealing one week of your life each month, talk to your doctor. Needing to call off of work or school because of period pain is a definite sign that it’s time to seek the input of a women’s health specialist. Some women experience more or less pain than others, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in agony once a month.
You should also consult a healthcare provider if it seems that your cramps are getting worse each month. Women who start having cramps when they’re 26 or older should make an appointment to discuss the issue as well.
Your gynecologist might recommend prescription pain relievers or oral contraceptives. She may also search for the underlying reason for your issue. Conditions that could cause period pain include endometriosis, ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. Identifying and addressing the problem may be the best way to achieve lasting relief.