What Can You Do About Painful Periods?
Hi friends! Did you know that periods shouldn’t be so painful that they keep you in bed and unable to function? Dysmenorrhea is a medical term for painful periods (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Painful periods are one of the leading causes of missed work/school and can cause mental health issues and impact social life (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Dysmenorrhea has been linked to certain conditions like endometriosis as well as personal factors like high stress, anxiety and depression, and dieting to lose weight (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Dysmenorrhea is thought to in part be caused by high levels of prostaglandins (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Typical treatments for dysmenorrhea have included medications like NSAIDs (e.g. Ibuprofen and Aleve), oral contraceptives, IUDs, and hot packs (Tremback-Ball, 2023). These treatments aim to lower the amount of prostaglandins.
While NSAIDs are safe for most individuals over short periods of time (less than 3 days) they are associated with gastrointestinal disorders, fluid retention, blood abnormalities, kidney issues, and liver issues (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Using NSAIDs over long periods of time can impact heart health and cause peptic ulcers (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Hormonal contraceptives (birth control) can have side effects of nausea, vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness, acne, depression, and weight gain (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Contraceptives help to prevent pregnancies; however, individuals who are trying to conceive can have dysmenorrhea.
Hot packs can be a viable treatment option with less side effects; however, some individuals are unable to use them due to underlying conditions or the impracticality of carrying a hot pack with them.
So what are other options to help ease the symptoms of dysmenorrhea? The following are ways that have been shown to be effective:
Let’s talk about the ways these treatments can improve pain.
Regular aerobic exercise (exercise that gets your heart rate up like brisk walking, jogging, or cycling) has been shown to decrease pain with periods (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Studies done have varied in the length and intensity of each exercise bout, they range from about 20-45 minutes and 3-5 days per week (Tremback-Ball, 2023). There are other health benefits to regular exercise as well. One study found lower scores on the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale in individuals who began exercising regularly (Tremback-Ball, 2023). In addition to aerobic exercise, core stabilization exercises significantly decrease dysmenorrhea pain scores (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Not ready to get your heart rate up? Stretching has been shown to lower pain as well (Tremback-Ball, 2023). Stretches that target the abdomen, pelvis, and groin have been shown to help when done for at least 10 minutes per day for at least 8 weeks (Tremback-Ball, 2023). One study found that 30 minutes of yoga two days per week for at least 12 weeks helped to significantly lower pain, improve quality of life, and improve sense of well-being (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Adding foods to your diet that are high in magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C have been shown to help with pain (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
Kinesiotaping twice per week has been effective at reducing period pain (Tremback-Ball, 2023). In the study, participants were taped at the low back and from the belly button towards the pubic bone (Tremback-Ball, 2023).
While all of the above techniques can be used to help lower pain during your period, be sure to talk to your providers about any pain you may be experiencing.
Pelvic pain with periods as well as general pelvic pain can also be attributed to overactive and tight pelvic floor muscles. Addressing any underlying issues can help to address the root cause of pelvic pain and dysmenorrhea. Ask you provider for a referral to a pelvic floor therapist near you, or find one at www.mypfm.com/find-a-pt.
Ready to learn more about your pelvic health? Here are some helpful resources:
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The Infradian Rhythym: Evidence-Based Practive and Clinical Pearls for Empowering Athletes Through Their Menstrual Cycles with Dr. Julia Smeltz, PT, DPT, ATC, CAFS, RYT
De-Mystifying PCOS: Understanding What it is and What to do? With Dr. Janelle Howell, PT, DPT, WCS
Endometriosis: Management Strategies in Pelvic Rehabilitation with Dr. Amanda Olson, PT, DPR, PTPC
Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT
Tremback-Ball A, Hammond E, Applegate A, Caldwell E, Witmer H. Effectiveness of physical ther interventions for women with dysmenorrhea: a systematic review. J Womens Phys Therap. 2023;47(1):3-18.