Menstrual Cramps: why they happen and what can we do about it?
Yeah, cramps can be upsetting! Sometimes they make you want to look up to the sky and ask "whyyy?!!". At the same time, we still want to understand why they happen.
(You might see some complicated terms during your reading, but we’ll try to keep it as simple as possible!)
Menstrual cramps usually are caused by an excess of hormones released by the endometrium (our period), which is the inner layer of the uterus and released during the menstrual phase.
As we get closer to our period our body starts producing prostaglandins, which are inflammatory compounds that work to help the uterus contract to release the endometrium. This hormone makes the uterus contract. It can be painful, even more, when the contractions are severe.
Some people feel a lot of pain, while others barely feel it. We don't have an exact explanation of why some of us are so lucky. However, people who have heavy flows or an irregular cycle (of 35 days or more or cycles of less than 28 days) are more likely to have cramps.
How to relieve period cramps?
If you already take any medication that helps you, great! However, there are also some alternatives that you can try. Know that tracking your menstrual cycle is a great way to predict when you'll need to use these tips:
Heating Pad: The heat helps the muscles to relax, relieving your menstrual cramps. You just need to apply the heating pad or a hot-water bottle to your pelvic area and give it some time. Repeat the process as many times as you want.
Herbal Teas: Sometimes, just herbal teas can get the job done. They can help balance hormones and ease period discomforts. Especially chamomile, ginger and peppermint, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can relieve menstrual cramps. For better results, start drinking them before your period and avoid high caffeine teas, as they can cause the opposite effect by increasing cramps.
Physical activities: You may not always feel like exercising during your period, but there are some activities that can help relieve your pain: Yoga and Pilates! Different from an intensive workout, they can be more relaxing. You can find some incredible poses, such as cat and child's pose, that will give you instant relief. You’ll start your day with much more energy!
Talk to a doctor: If your menstrual cramps are too painful so it gets in the way of your day-to-day life, talk to a doctor.
Extra tips: Drinking water, eating healthy fats (like avocados, nuts, chia seeds, fish, brown rice, dark chocolate, etc) and lots of vegetables help reduce inflammation throughout your body.
You can use our period calendar to keep track of your cycle and know when you'll start bleeding.
Hang in there!
Cramps usually don't last more than a few days and following these tips can help you to go through them more smoothly.
And don’t forget: if your pain is more than you can handle, talk to a doctor!
Text by Uanna Mattos.
Content and communication professional, with multidisciplinary interests. Bachelor in Social Communication with emphasis in Journalism at FAPCOM, Brazil.
She is co-author of the book “My Body, My Rules”, a book with stories of women who suffered psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse throughout their lives, by Editora Autografia.