Managing Menstrual Cramps

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Cramps are an inevitable part of almost every woman’s life. Each month, without fail, you feel your period before it begins. Cramps are usually felt in the abdomen or the lower back. They last anywhere from one to three days. For some women, cramps are merely a nuisance, something that is annoying but doesn’t affect your life. For other women, severe cramps send them to bed for a day or two each month. While you probably can’t totally rid your life of cramps, there are some things you can do to help ease the pain.

    While you are having cramps:

    • Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, usually help to lessen the pain.
    • Use a heating pad or a hot water bottle and apply heat directly to your abdomen or lower back.
    • Try different positions. You might find lying on your side with your knees bent helps relieve the pain or you might find another position feels better. Try sitting and lying down in different positions to find what works best for you.
    • Exercise. When you have cramps, the last thing you want to do is get up and move, but mild exercise can help to reduce the cramps. Try taking a walk or riding your bike. Spend time doing yoga. Make sure it is an exercise you enjoy.
    • Distract yourself. Think about activities which are engrossing and will take your mind off your cramps. You might want to make plans to be with friends, read a good book or spend time on social networks. The idea is to think of things other than the cramps.
    • Soak in a hot bath. The warm water can help to reduce cramping and soaking in a hot bath always feels good.
    • Stay away from caffeinated drinks as these can make your cramps worse.
    • Use relaxation and stress-reducing techniques. Try meditation or yoga or get a massage.
    • Consider acupuncture. Some women find acupuncture or acupressure techniques work to reduce the pain and cramping.
    • Have sex. Having an orgasm can reduce the pain and cramping for some women.

    During the month:

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    You don’t need to wait until the cramps strike to take action. There are some things you can do everyday to help reduce monthly cramps.

    • Exercise daily. Adding even 15 minutes of exercise to your daily routine might help to reduce how intense your cramps are each month.
    • If your cramps are stopping you from participating in life each month, talk to your doctor about birth control pills. The hormones help regulate your period and often lessen both your flow and the cramping.
    • Keep your hormones balanced throughout the month by drinking plenty of water, maintaining a healthy weight
    • Eat foods high in magnesium, such as spinach. Some studies have shown that women with severe cramping are magnesium deficient.

    When to see a doctor:

    Most of the time, self-help and home remedies, such as the ones described here, help reduce the cramping. If, however, you try home remedies and do not feel any relief after three months, it is time to talk to your doctor. There might be an underlying medical condition, which, when treated will help reduce the cramps and pain.

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    You should also consult your doctor if you have a fever, a foul-smelling vaginal discharge or if the pain is so severe you are not able to function or go about your daily life. While cramping is normal, severe cramping and pain is not.

    Cramping is normal for the first several months after you have an IUD inserted. However, if cramping continues for more than three or four months, you should talk to your doctor. If cramping continues for six months, he might recommend removing the IUD.

    If your cramps last more than three days, talk with your doctor. Although some women do experience cramping for longer than three days, your doctor can determine if this is normal for you or if there is an underlying medical cause for your pain.


    “Dysmenorrhea,” Date Unknown, Barbara L. Patrick MD, FACOG, Woman to Woman Gynecology Services

    “Menstruation and the Menstrual Cycle Fact Sheet,” Updated 2012, July 16, Reviewed by Lawrence M. Nelson, MD, US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health

Published On: May 06, 2014