Menstrual cramps can put a damper on your plans for an active day, and you might find yourself tempted to use over-the-counter medications to alleviate that pain. But you can avoid the potential side effects of OTC by using a natural remedy instead.
You’re not alone. It’s estimated that 90 percent of women deal with dysmenorrhea (the medical term for menstrual cramps) at some time in their lives.
Those cramps are contractions of your uterine muscles – they’re very strong so those contractions can be quite painful. The pain starts in your lower abdomen and can spread into your low back and legs. It can last for a few hours or even a couple of days.
Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen might help, but if used too often, they can result in liver problems, hurt your stomach or increase your risk of heart disease.
These time-tested remedies will help relieve the discomfort of cramps – safely and naturally — so you can get out and enjoy your day.
Drink More Water
Water is essential for healthy muscles and being even a little dehydrated makes your muscles more sensitive and more likely to cramp. Start sipping on some water as soon as you can after the cramps start.
If you don’t like the taste of plain water, you can add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber to your water. And the water doesn’t have to be cold. Hot water with a little lemon and honey – or even a non-caffeinated herbal tea – will hydrate you and soothe your pain.
Additionally, you can keep a cup of water on your nightstand to keep hydrated during the night and carry a water bottle with you during the day. You’ll also get water from moist foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Gently Exercise the Pain Away
Even though you might be tempted to curl up in a ball and stay on the couch all day, a little physical activity may be the answer. Nothing strenuous – you just want to get your muscles moving and the blood flowing.
Be kind to yourself and take a 10-minute walk. This is especially good when the weather is nice, and you can enjoy some time outdoors. If it’s too cold or your area isn’t conducive for a nice walk, then you can stay indoors. Try dancing to some of your favorite songs.
Stretching your low back, abdominal and leg muscles may help to ease some of the discomfort, as well. Yoga is also good for preventing and reducing the pain of menstrual cramps.
Warm and Soothe with Heat
Using heat can be just as effective as taking medication for period pain relief. If you don’t have a heating pad or an old-school hot water bottle handy, you can pour hot water into a plastic bottle and wrap it in a towel. Place it over your lower abdomen until the water cools.
Soaking in warm bath water can relieve your cramps and help you relax. Turn off the bright bathroom lights and use some candles – or bring in a small lamp. Add some essential oils or scented bath salts to the water.
Essential Oil Aromatherapy
An aromatherapy massage with the right essential oil may be just what you need. Certain scents can relax and calm you – like chamomile, lavender and geranium, while others can stimulate you, like rosemary.
A research study found that a combination of lavender, clary sage and rose oils mixed with almond oil was effective in reducing menstrual cramps in college-age women. You can find these essential oils at a health food store – or possibly at your local pharmacy.
Give yourself an aromatherapy massage. Add 2 drops of lavender and 1 drop each of clary sage and rose to 1/5 of an ounce of almond oil. Gently massage your lower abdomen with the oil. The combination of massage and essential oils will ease some of the pain.
Cinnamon and Ginger
You may have some cinnamon and ginger in your kitchen – they’re commonly used to flavor foods. They might also help to sooth your cramps and get you feeling better.
Cinnamon’s health benefits are due to the combination of natural compounds it contains and it’s ability to ‘warm’ the body. Ginger has been shown to reduce the pain of menstrual cramps and can help reduce nausea.
Make a soothing cinnamon tea by placing a cinnamon stick in a cup and adding hot water. Let it steep for about 10 minutes. Remove the stick and drink the tea. You can also make a similar tea with ginger – steep a few slices of fresh ginger in hot water for ten minutes. Each of these teas can be sweetened with a little honey.
Valerian root has been used as a medicinal herb in ancient Rome and Greece. It’s used to treat nervousness and insomnia. Valerian also has an antispasmodic effect that makes it a good natural remedy for menstrual cramps. One research study found that taking 244 milligrams per day for three times a day was effective for women who had dysmenorrhea.
Valerian root doesn’t appear to have any side effects, but you should speak with your doctor if you’re taking any medications for depression or anxiety.
Make Cramp Bark Tea
The name ‘cramp bark’ says it all. The plant is native to Europe, northern Africa and northern Asia. It’s been used traditionally as a remedy for both menstrual cramps and arthritis pain.
Cramp bark is available at health food stores as a dietary supplement or as dried leaves. Make a soothing tea by steeping 2 teaspoons of cramp bark leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes.
Whew – What a Relief, but What About Next Time?
The best things you can do to prevent cramps include eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies and hydrate yourself properly. Stay active, but make sure you get time for rest and relaxation, too.
If your cramps continue to get out of control every month, or they’re accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness and vomiting, you should see your healthcare provider for advice.
Now, before we wrap up–I’m curious about your thoughts and experiences. Have you found relief from any of these tips in this past? Or are there things that have worked for you that we left out?
Feel free to comment below. I know this is a more personal topic, but we’re super eager to hear what you have to say and anything you can share with us! Thanks so much.