Introduction to Menstrual Pain and Cramping
Menstrual cramps and pain before and during your period is the most known symptom of the menstrual cycle.
In the first few years of having my period, pain was the only thing I knew as a symptom.
There could have been more going on, but I was only aware of the cramps and that is the only thing on which I focused.
Pop a few pain pills, and I was good to go. I never spoke about this with anyone.
I just assumed that is what it was to have a period, and this was going to be what it was like for the rest of my life.
I never questioned it. No one I knew questioned it. That was just the way it was to have a menstrual cycle.
I still remember one day in junior high, grade 7 maybe, when I forgot to take a pill.
The pain was so overwhelming that I couldn’t concentrate in school. It was all I could think about all day and because of that, it felt so long.
It sucks when you need to be tied down to making sure you always have pills on you.
After that I didn’t go anywhere without a bottle of ibuprofen. I promised myself I would never feel that level of pain again.
I lived this way for 15 to 20 years.
I do count myself lucky because my pain was masked with painkillers. I know this is not the case for everyone.
It makes me sad to think about now. I had no idea I could help myself in other ways and that the pills did not have to be a part of my cyclical routine.
In this article, I discuss:
- How menstrual cramps and pain manifests itself in the body,
- The possible reasons for pain before and during bleeding, plus
- Simple tips to get pain-free periods!
Why Do You Have Cramping and Pain With Your Period?
Pain and cramping with your period is so common that, I think, the majority of people, those who menstruate and even those who do not, believe it is normal.
Just because pain and cramping is common does not make it normal!
And that means you can work on lessening the pain which is a powerful revelation.
The first step is looking at what is meant by pain and cramps.
How Menstrual Cramps and Pain Can Feel
Everyone experiences pain differently, but my hope is you’ll see something here that sounds familiar to you and your body.
Menstrual cramps and pain manifests most commonly:
- as feeling achy, crampy, or sharp and then dull (ebb and flow)
- seems to start in lower back, inner thighs, or right at the uterus
- can also come with nausea, vomiting, headache, and/or diarrhea
- pain will be a few days before and/or during your period
These are meant to just give you a guideline.
Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?
Possible Root Causes To Your Cramps and Pain
The second step is to look at possible reasons for your menstrual cramps and pain to see if any ring true for you.
You can also bring this information to your healthcare provider to work on getting a diagnosis if necessary.
Here are reasons you may be experiencing pain before and/or during your period:
- Uterine fibroids
- Primary dysmenorrhea – term used when no other cause for pain can be found
- likely brought on by inflammation-causing prostaglandins
- Estrogen dominance can increase these prostaglandins. It also increases the contractions of the smooth muscle tissue found in the uterus – directly leading to cramping. Check out the article on Estrogen Dominance here!
- Adrenal issues – but these can also be caused by premenstrual problems. It’s a beautiful, cyclical, hormonal dance!
As you can see, some of these symptoms do need a diagnosis – endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and to some extent primary dysmenorrhea (although responds well to dietary changes.)
The last two, depending on severity, you can go straight to nutritional and lifestyle changes.
It is all up to you and how you feel; what feels right to you.
Side note: If you notice that when you take an anti-inflammatory pill, like ibuprofen or aspirin, and it doesn’t help with your pain, you may be dealing with PMS rather than primary dysmenorrhea.
In this case, you may need different recommendations. Check out my next article for information on PMS and PMDD.
Seeking Help and Getting a Diagnosis
After seeing this list you may feel like you just don’t know what’s happening in your body, and that’s okay.
You may want to get help from your healthcare provider.
The key here would be to go in with as much information as you can and keep on them for a diagnosis even if they are content just giving you a prescription for some form of hormonal birth control.
Contrary to what, unfortunately, many doctors say, these will not ‘cure’ your menstrual cramps.
They just mask them until you stop taking them at which time the symptoms come back, and sometimes they are even worse.
If you need a new doctor, go out and find one or even another type of healer like a naturopathic doctor (they can run tests and can be more open.)
If you want to supplement your allopathic care with more spiritual/energetic ways of healing, you may also want to see a homeopath, medical intuitive, shaman, womb healer, reiki practitioner, craniosacral specialist, energy healer…me, a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant!
It is all up to you and what you want and need.
You and your health are worth it.
Simple Tips for Menstrual Cramps and Pain
As mentioned above, the main issue with primary dysmenorrhea is inflammation-causing prostaglandins.
Your endometrium naturally releases these during menstruation to aid in the shedding of the uterine lining.
The problem begins when too much of these are released – as seen in bodies that suffer from dysmenorrhea.
These prostaglandins have the same effect on the gut lining, causing contractions, this leads to the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
So the key then is to decrease these while increasing the ‘good’ prostaglandins.
The following tips focus on this point.
Dietary Recommendations for Menstrual Cramps and Pain:
- Increase essential fatty acids, specifically omega 3. We need both omega 3 and 6, but the ratio found in the standard American diet is way too high in omega 6. Increase omega 3 intake. Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids will sometimes contain 6 as well. Stick to the healthy fats and you’ll be doing great!
- Omega 3 fats – flaxseed and oil, chia seeds, walnuts, edamame, avocado, hemp seeds. Also supplements for DHA and EPA – vegan ones are available. Look for algae-derived capsules.
- Omega 6 fats – oils with high amounts of this fat can be avoided for increased effectiveness. These include sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and soybean oil.
- To make this easy, add in a tablespoon of flaxseeds to a meal a day, an algae supplement, and remove any of the omega 6 oils if you use them.
- Water – there is a hormone, vasopressin, that works on contracting smooth muscle tissue. This includes the uterus when you are about to bleed and during bleeding. This hormone has been found in higher amounts in those who suffer from dysmenorrhea.
- Increase water intake about 3 days before your cramping begins to help expel excess vasopressin.
- Magnesium – This mineral has been found to be low in people eating the standard American diet. Increase this nutrient to help with muscle relaxing.
- Found in dark leafy greens, almonds, quinoa
- Take an epsom salt bath or foot soak – high in magnesium and body takes in what it needs
- Powders – can find powders that you pop into water or tea and drink down. This is a great way to get more magnesium. There is usually a bit of a flavour, so be ready for that!
These are just three easy ways to nutritionally support the cramps and pain that can come with your period.
Make sure to give yourself enough time to notice any difference with these recommendations.
I usually say 3 cycles at least to really notice a difference.
Although I’ve noticed quicker progress often!
If after 3 cycles you do not notice any difference, please see your healthcare provider.
There may be something bigger going on in your body.
I invite you to try even one of these recommendations for 3 cycles.
I do suggest that you make a note of your pain before changing anything.
This can be in the form of a scale, 1-5, 1-10; a list of symptoms and pain; or a descriptive paragraph about your experience of the pain.
It is important to note how you started off so you can see how far you have come, or not, one month, two months, three months later.
Our brains tend to forget where we have come from – it is a weird trait!
Dysmenorrhea is common and, luckily for all of us, is quite good with nutritional interventions.
It reacts well with specific diet additions.
If this all sounds too easy, I invite you to just try it.
And maybe ask yourself why you think that something that is considered easy is also considered ineffective.
There is a common thought out there that change needs to be hard in order for it to work.
I challenge that belief.
How many times have you stuck with something that is hard?
How many changes have you permanently made that were continually difficult and extra work?
The most long-lasting, sustainable changes we can make for ourselves are easy and simple.
These are the effective changes that last a lifetime and actually work.
Challenging your beliefs is the quickest way to change!
If you feel like you need personalized guidance from Carly…
I invite you to book a FREE Hormone Clarity Assessment by clicking on the button below!
Yours in plant love,