How to Relieve Cramps

What You Can Do to Help Relieve Period Cramps

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Menstrual cramps are a common experience for anyone who menstruates. However, they can vary considerably in intensity. Some people might only experience mild cramping, while others might have more severe—or even debilitating—pain.

If you have a tween or teen, try to take their complaints of menstrual pain seriously and see what you can do to help. Luckily, there are a number of effective home remedies for cramps.

While some discomfort is to be expected with periods, it can also point to a problem that requires medical attention. It's important to know the difference between what is normal and what is not.

Causes

Menstrual cramps are actually uterine contractions that occur just before and during your period in order to shed the uterine lining. These contractions are painful for more than half of all people who menstruate, though the pain typically only lasts a day or two and is usually mild.

Most people experience period pain as a dull ache or throbbing in the lower abdomen, though it can also radiate to the lower back and inner or upper thighs. For some people, menstrual pain is so severe that it interferes with their daily activities.

There are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will experience painful period cramps, including:

What Helps Relieve Cramps

It is possible to soothe mild menstrual discomfort and pain. Here are a few things that can help.

Exercise

Light exercise can lessen period pain and release endorphins, which elevates your mood and makes you feel better. You don't need to do an intense workout to reap the benefits of exercise—a simple walk around the neighborhood, yoga session, or stretching exercises can all help ease the pain.

Heat

Applying a hot water bottle or heating pad to your lower abdomen increases blood flow and relaxes the uterine muscles that cause period pain. In fact, one study of 344 people found that heat therapy was more effective than over-the-counter pain relievers at easing period discomfort.

Pain Medication

Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are widely used to relieve menstrual cramps. ​

Do not give aspirin products (such as Bayer) to children or teenagers under the age of 16 because it can increase the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but possibly fatal disease.

As with any medication, follow the dosing instructions on the bottle. Also, ask your doctor before taking more than one medication.

Rest and Relaxation

Rest, relaxation, and sleep can all help with pain relief. In particular, sleep can help maintain a healthy menstrual cycle and lower cortisol levels.

Try different sleep positions to see what works best to ease the pressure on your abdominal muscles. Many people find lying on their side or with knees pulled up to their chest (commonly known as the fetal position) the most comfortable during their period.

Warm Bath

A warm bath or shower can also help relieve menstrual cramps. Much like applying a heating pad or hot water bottle, the heat increases blood flow and relaxes the muscles of the uterus to lessen pain.

Things to Avoid

Certain foods and drinks can make you retain water, resulting in a bloated and uncomfortable feeling during your period. Others worsen inflammation, which can make period symptoms worse. It is a good idea to avoid the following:

  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Legumes (such as beans and chickpeas)
  • Processed foods
  • Salty or sugary foods

When Period Pain Isn't Normal

Menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are not the same thing. PMS symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, bloating, and fatigue appear approximately a week before menses begins. After your period starts, PMS symptoms usually improve dramatically.

PMS symptoms fade after a menstrual period begins, but new pain may emerge in the form of menstrual cramps.

The lining of the uterus releases prostaglandins that make contractions more powerful and painful, especially during the first few days of the menstrual cycle. For many, this discomfort is simply a nuisance, but sometimes it's indicative of more than just "normal" period pain.

There are two types of menstrual pain:

  • Primary dysmenorrhea: This type of pain occurs around the time of a first period and usually doesn't indicate a medical condition.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea: Pain that develops some time after a person first begins menstruating; it can even begin after a long history of normal periods. It usually indicates the presence of conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

If period pain is not relieved with anti-inflammatory medication or is so severe that it interferes with going to school, working, or socializing, there could be an underlying condition that needs treatment.

In this case, it's best to call a doctor or other healthcare professional. If your tween or teen is the one experiencing menstrual pain, you can contact either a gynecologist or your child's pediatrician (most see patients until at least 18 years of age).

When to See a Doctor

Severe menstrual pain can be a sign that something more serious is going on. Call your doctor if:

  • Home remedies, including heat and pain relievers, do not ease your pain
  • You cannot participate in normal activities because of your period pain
  • Pain continues even after your period ends
  • You're also experiencing symptoms of depression

Severe menstrual pain could be a sign of other health conditions, including:

Treatment

The first thing your doctor will do is diagnose what is causing your severe period cramps. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis. Possible treatments could include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Both prescription and over-the-counter NSAIDs can inhibit the production of prostaglandins and relieve period pain.
  • Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant used to treat both the emotional and physical symptoms of severe PMS.
  • Hormonal birth control: The hormones in birth control can help relieve menstrual cramps by reducing or blocking prostaglandin production.

For more severe diagnoses, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids, your doctor may suggest surgery to eliminate the source of the pain. In rare cases, a hysterectomy to remove the uterus may be recommended.

A Word From Verywell

Menstrual pain can take tweens and teens by surprise when they are first beginning to have periods. While cramps are uncomfortable, they are common and when mild, are not usually an indication of anything serious.

You can help your child by using home remedies to alleviate their discomfort—including a few days for some self-care if they feel like they need it. However, if the pain is debilitating or interfering with normal activities, call your primary care doctor or gynecologist.

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10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Period Pains: Can Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Help?. Updated August 1, 2019.

  9. Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. PMS: should I try an SSRI medicine for my symptoms? July 17, 2020.

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