6 Ways to relieve period cramps

Just before and during their period, many people who menstruate feel cramping pains in their lower abdomen, back, and thighs. The intensity of this discomfort is different for everyone. For some, it may be minor. For others, it can be so severe that it interferes with everyday activities.

There are a number of ways to deal with menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), including:

  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Heat
  • Yoga
  • Essential oils
  • Dietary supplements

Medication

Depending on your level of discomfort and medical history, your doctor may recommend medication to help you find relief.

Over-the-counter medication

Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve®) and ibuprofen (Advil®) are proven pain relievers.

They can also inhibit the production of the prostaglandins, which are hormones that can cause menstrual cramps.

Prescription medication

If OTC medications don’t work for you, your doctor may recommend a prescription NSAID such as mefenamic acid (Ponstel).

Hormonal birth control

In some cases, doctors recommend hormonal birth control to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.

The hormones in these contraceptives, some of which can also prevent ovulation, are available by prescription or through your healthcare provider in a variety of forms, including:

  • Pills
  • Skin patches
  • Injections
  • Implants
  • IUDs

Surgery

Underlying conditions like fibroids or endometriosis sometimes cause cramps. If your doctor diagnoses you with one of these conditions, they may suggest surgery.

Heat

Heat is a simple home remedy that can help soothe cramps.

You can use a heating pad or hot water bottle to apply heat wherever you’re experiencing pain. Though it’s a simple treatment, it can be very soothing.

Yoga

If you’re in a lot of pain, you might not feel like exercising. But for some people, gentle physical activity like yoga can help ease cramps.

A 2016 study of 40 women concluded that yoga may help reduce menstrual cramps and menstrual distress.

A 2011 study of 18–22-year-old women focused on three particular yoga poses, finding that they helped reduce both the duration and intensity of period pain:

  • Cat pose (Marjaryasana)
  • Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
  • Fish pose (Matsyasana) 

Essential oils

A 2018 review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine demonstrated that aromatherapy — including inhalational, massage, or oral use — worked better than a placebo when it came to reducing period pain. A placebo is a substance that has no therapeutic effect. It’s used as a control in testing.

Some essential oils to consider include:

  • Lavender oil. A 2015 study showed that lavender oil massage may decrease menstrual discomfort.
  • Clary sage or marjoram. A 2012 study suggested that massage with a blend of lavender, clary sage, and marjoram essential oils significantly decreased menstrual pain.
  • Cinnamon, rose, and clove. A 2013 study used cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender essential oils combined in almond oil. The researchers suggested that aromatherapy from these oils had a significant effect on menstrual pain and bleeding. 

If you’re interested in trying essential oils, it’s important to know that theFood and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate them. Talk to your doctor before trying essential oils. They may have advice on proper use, safe practices, and reputable providers. 

Never apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. Doing a test patch can also help ensure you won’t have a negative reaction.

Dietary supplements

According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have indicated that period cramps might be reduced by adding certain supplements to your diet, including:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium

The Mayo Clinic also suggests that fennel and French maritime pine bark (pycnogenol) might help with menstrual cramp discomfort.

Also, a 2015 study of 76 women concluded that those taking cinnamon capsules had less bleeding, pain, nausea, and vomiting than those not taking cinnamon.

Before adding supplements or herbal products to your diet, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide if these products are safe for you based on your health and any other supplements or medications you may be taking.

Takeaway

Period cramps can be reduced in a variety of ways. These include NSAIDs, heat, gentle exercise, essential oils, and dietary supplements.

If you’re in extreme pain, it’s important to let your doctor know. Sometimes, underlying conditions like fibroids or endometriosis can cause period pain.