Pacify Period Pain: 7 Unusual Treatments Worth Trying
The pain that comes along with your monthly visit from Aunt Flo is no joke. Try one of these surprising ways to mitigate menstrual cramps.
What helps period cramps?
Between loading every purse you own with tampons, stockpiling an arsenal of Rocky Road, and lashing out at your beau for no logical reason, your period is pretty much the worst. And to top it off, most of us spend a fair amount of the week curled in a ball in bed, skipping workouts, girls night out, and even work. (Okay, maybe we’re not so sad about the last one.) Some 84 percent of women experience cramps with their period, and for half, the pain is so bad that it actually requires medication, according to a study in the Journal of Pain Research. Most of us reach for heating pads or OTC painkillers like Motrin, but sometimes your go-to just isn’t enough to help the aches abate.
While the jury’s still out on how all of these compare to the old standbys, they do provide some unusual options that have some science on their side.
How about Viagra?
The ingredient in the little blue pill that works wonders for men might also help period pain in some women. The main ingredient in Viagra, called sildenafil citrate, seemed to help alleviate menstrual cramps in a 2013 study in Human Reproduction. Sildenafil citrate works to dilate your blood vessels. In men, this is what helps energize erections, but for women, dilating blood vessels near the uterus may ease cramps. #WhoKnew? The preliminary study used a vaginal application of the drug, not an oral pill.
Sip on red raspberry leaf tea
Red raspberry leaf extract has been used for reproductive-region pain for centuries. Raspberry leaves have both a high mineral content, which helps the uterus muscles relax, as well as high levels of fragarine, which helps strengthen the entire pelvic floor and uterus, according to a study in Planta Medica. The extract is best known for helping make childbirth easier and faster, but by the same mechanism, may also help ease cramps. Plus, the herbal supplement can help decrease menstrual bleeding, which may help reduce the amount of period cramping women experience, says Jaimie Maines, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Tape up your tummy
iStock/Patricia Chumillas Rodri
A favorite among fitness junkies, kinesiology tape is an elastic cotton strip that you apply over injured or sore muscles to increase circulation and improve range of motion. It’s traditionally used to ease muscle and joint aches enough to power through a race or workout, but some studies suggest it can help at your time of the month as well. Research in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that taping near your pelvic region before you start your period and during menstruation can help significantly relieve menstrual pain. The tape helps stimulate the sensory receptors in your skin, thereby helping muscles relax to quiet your cramps.
Try it: Grab a roll at any sports store (and even some mass retailers like Walmart). Cut two strips roughly eight to 10 centimeters long (about the size of a menstrual pad) and apply one horizontal between your pelvic bones and the other vertical, starting right below your belly button, ultimately forming a cross. (Or just watch this super helpful video on proper application.)
While it’s tempting to curl up in bed when you have menstrual cramp pain, doing the opposite and getting your body moving may help to improve cramping, Dr. Maines says. And that includes getting your heart rate up between the sheets. “Orgasms release endorphins, which will help make menstrual cramps less bothersome, as well as increase blood flow to the genital area, which can help relieve pain,” Dr. Maines explains.
Your psoas muscles—which wraps from your lower spine, around the front and down to the brim of the lower pelvis—are often a contributing factor to your monthly period pain. “This muscle modulates a lot of the stress and tension of daily life in order to protect our nervous system, but this taxation makes the psoas muscles dry and tensile,” explains Eden Fromberg, MD, owner and founder of Holistic Gynecology New York. “Because the nerves from the uterus literally perforate through these muscles, they become irritated and reactive, cranky, and crampy.” The best remedy? Hydration, which will help reduce that tension and therefore menstrual cramping, as well as gentle twists from side to side.
Ditch your heels
“High heels cause significant postural and pelvic instability, displace the uterus, and create even more psoas muscle stress and tension,” says Dr. Fromberg. Use your monthly visitor as an excuse to switch to flats or minimalist footwear with flexible soles for a week, she suggests.
We know: You’re already cranky and tired from PMS and cramps, and now we’re asking you to go without your morning java fix?! But forgoing the fuel can actually help you feel better: “Caffeine constricts blood vessels, so it may actually worsen menstrual cramping,” says Dr. Maines. That means cutting back on tea, coffee, soda, and even chocolate (sorry, ladies!). But you could try some of these essential oils for menstrual cramps.
- Journal of Pain Research: Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea?
- Human Reproduction: Sildenafil citrate in the treatment of pain in primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized controlled trial
- Planta Medica: Uterotonic Plants and their Bioactive Constituents
- Jaimie Maines, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: The Effect of the Kinesio Taping and Spiral Taping on Menstrual Pain and Premenstrual Syndrome
- Eden Fromberg, MD, owner and founder of Holistic Gynecology New York