Cramps are actually, quite literally, contractions. Yep—those waves of intense pain that women feel during child labor that send them into fits of wailing … well, most of us experience a dull version of them roughly every 28 days. Men, you have no idea.
Our uterus needs to contract in order to help facilitate the process that is shedding our unused uterine lining in the typical case that we are not pregnant, or trying to become so. It can be sharp, jarring, coming in waves, even debilitating, leaving us crumpled on the floor in the fetal position. Serious cramps can even cause feelings of nausea, back or hip pain, and fever-like cold sweats—that’s our body reacting to the pain in a way that it believes we need to kill something off, like a virus. Yikes.
Cramps don’t always cause super intense pain. Sometimes it’s more of a dull ache. A heaviness. A feeling of weighted discomfort over a few hours, a day, a couple days. While we learn to live with them, we are always finding better, easier, natural ways to cope. We shouldn’t be popping anti-inflammatories on such a regular basis—it’s not great for the lining of the stomach. Here are some totally safe and easy ways to relieve uterine pressure.
Peppermint oil is not only cooling to the touch, creating a refreshing, tingling, distracting sensation, but peppermint itself is antispasmodic. Drop a few drips of the concentrated essential oil on your hand with a little carrier oil like jojoba to dilute it—essential oils should never be applied to the skin straight. They’re super powerful and can cause irritation. Massage gently to self-soothe, and let the coolness settle in.
On the other end of the temperature spectrum, a heating pad has been shown to be comparatively as powerful as ibuprofen for menstrual cramp pain. An electric pad, a heating patch, or even a linen or cotton sack filled with grains and nuked in the microwave will do.
Not all of us are feeling our most sexy or sexual during this time, but try a little self-play if you’re not up for it with a partner. Having an orgasm increases blood flow to the uterus, speeding up healing time and oxygenating the area for a less inflamed, more smooth process.
As soon as we enter our luteal stage (about a week or so before the bleed), sipping on one or two cups of chamomile tea can have some major benefits. It’s anti-inflammatory, calming, relaxing, and antispasmodic, which could prevent the cramps altogether, or at least keep them on their best behavior.
Studies show that ginger has similar effects to mefenamic acid or ibuprofen. The subjects had ginger powder capsules four times a day for three days during their period and experienced that it was just as effective as taking pain meds. Not to mention, it’s great for skin and digestion.
Processed sugar, spicy foods, unfermented dairy, caffeine, and alcohol are all cramp aggravators. Avoid them as best as you can to keep from making things angrier.
Aerobic exercise, but keep it mellow
We need rest during this period, pun intended. We should avoid hitting those HIIT classes or running stairs, and stick with gentle movement like walking and yoga. We want to increase and encourage healthy blood flow, without straining or tricking the body into thinking it’s in danger during this gentle time. Intense exercise can exacerbate the issue, or trigger our body into storing fat as a defense mechanism, so when we say mellow, we mean it.
Eat intuitively, but don’t always cave to the cravings
We’re no stranger to the crazy cravings that happen when we’re on our periods. Sometimes those cravings mean something, but most often (especially the super sugary, ultra-carby ones) they shouldn’t be heeded seriously. In fact, as mentioned above, a lot of those cravings can result in inflammation. Focus on healthy foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, nuts, legumes, and seeds. Anti-inflammatory foods like blueberries, cherries, and squash are also great additions to the diet during this time.
Our bodies use magnesium to help regulate our muscle and nerve functions, as well as other important cellular tasks. It has muscle relaxant and vasodilatory effects, making it a great treatment for cramps, as well as relaxation of the body and mind for restorative sleep during this time.
Up next, be the first to know our weekly content and sign up for our Poosh newsletter.