Let me take this opportunity to clear up the confusion once and for all: excruciating period pain is not ‘normal’. As one famous lady aptly put it, “ killer cramps are not normal”. Sadly, us girls are made to believe excruciating pain with periods is normal and we’ve just gotta figure out ways to power through it! No, No, No, debilitating period pain is NOT a natural part of being a woman and there is healing and hope!
Remember, a period/menstruation typically occurs when your endometrial lining is being shed due to a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This process is generally inflammatory in nature and can cause some discomfort. When aunty flo is around the corner, it is normal to have some abdominal discomfort/cramps, light fatigue or just feel crouchy. However, pain that stops you from going to work/school or pain that has you curled up in bed in a fetal position is NOT normal. This is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea and it is a valid symptom that something is out of balance.
So, How do I know if my period pain is out of line?
The pain is debilitating - you cannot carry out normal tasks and OTC pain medication does nothing for you.
The pain begins before your actual menses and lasts through the entire flow
You feel lightheaded, dizzy or super fatigued
You have severe nausea and diarrhea
You may have irregular bleeding between periods
You may experience pain with sex
Your period is irregular ( you never know when it will pop up)
You may have a vaginal discharge that is thick with a strong odor.
The above symptoms are normally a clear indicator that there is an underlying condition and some of the most common culprits are:
Endometriosis - Up to 70 % of women with painful periods have endometriosis, so it is essentially the most common cause of period pain. Endometriosis is when the endometrial cells that line the womb begin to grow in other parts of the pelvic cavity and the pain occurs when these cells respond to hormones just like the endometrium. FYI - period pain is actually the primary symptom of endometriosis. To learn more, check out a blog post we did on this here.
Fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the uterus. They have been linked to estrogen dominance and they can cause pain when the uterus contracts during menstruation
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)- this is when there is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes. This inflammation makes periods especially painful.
Adenomyosis - In this case, the endometrial tissues that typically line the womb start to grow in the musculars walls of the uterus and this can cause severe pain during menstruation.
This last one requires a drum roll because it is unexpected…...Intrauterine Devices! IUD’s - commonly used long acting contraceptives can actually cause period pain. Being a foreign object in the uterus, it can cause mild- severe inflammation which then translates to pain.
So, what can I do to improve the pain?
Stress management - Ladies I know you may get tired of me singing the ‘reduce stress’ song, but it plays such a powerful role in health. Your emotions, thoughts and feelings significantly affect and influence your qi and blood circulation. So, learn to take time for you - do activities that calm you down and bring you peace and do them regularly. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and your health.
Acupuncture - In one study, women who used acupuncture as a therapy for dysmenorrhea, had a 91% improvement in symptoms. Acupuncture is super effective at regulating blood flow and reducing inflammation and this makes it our first line treatment for period pain.
Exercise - Studies have proven that aerobic exercise can be used as a preventive or therapeutic approach to control dysmenorrhea. Performing regular aerobic exercise brings about mental and physical relaxation, improves blood flow and menstrual symptoms.
Chinese herbs - TCM offers some potent herbal remedies to calm the woes of period pain. These herbs are targeted at dealing with the root cause of the pain as opposed to simply targeting a single symptom.
Ginger - Ginger is famous for warming the body, nourishing the spleen and sending off dampness. Ginger tea is a timeless remedy that has been used for ages to calm period pain.
Magnesium & Vitamin D supplementation - magnesium helps with blood flow and is a relaxant ( causes your muscles to chill out) and thus has been shown to reduce menstrual pain. High dose vitamin D is often used to relieve PMS symptoms but has shown effectiveness in dysmenorrhea as well.
A plant rich, high fiber diet. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is naturally anti-inflammatory in nature, supplying the body all the nutrients it needs to aid smooth blood flow as well as proper detoxification.