What helps period cramps?
Between loading every purse you own with tampons, stockpiling an arsenal of Rocky Road, and lashing out at your beau for no logical reason, your period is pretty much the worst. And to top it off, most of us spend a fair amount of the week curled in a ball in bed, skipping workouts, girls night out, and even work. (Okay, maybe we’re not so sad about the last one.) Some 84 percent of women experience cramps with their period. For half, the pain is so bad that it actually requires medication, according to a study in the Journal of Pain Research. Most of us reach for heating pads or OTC painkillers like Motrin, but sometimes your go-to just isn’t enough to help the aches abate. In fact, some women are going to great lengths to alleviate their pain—from a new marijuana vaginal suppository to injecting Botox into their nether regions.
While the jury’s still out on whether either of those are safe or effective, here are other unorthodox remedies that do have science on their side.
Ask about Viagra
The little blue pill works wonders for more than just men, it turns out. The main ingredient in Viagra, called sildenafil citrate, can help alleviate menstrual cramps, according to a study in Human Reproduction. Sildenafil citrate works to dilate your blood vessels. In men, this is what helps energize erections, but for women, dilating blood vessels near the uterus can ease cramps. #WhoKnew?
Sip on red raspberry leaf tea
Red raspberry leaf extract has been relieving reproductive-region pain for centuries. Raspberry leaves have both a high mineral content, which helps the uterus muscles relax, as well as high levels of fragrene, which helps strengthen the entire pelvic floor and uterus, according to a study in International Journal of Herbal Medicine. The extract is best known for helping make childbirth easier and faster, but by the same mechanism, can also help ease cramps. Plus, the herbal supplement can help decrease menstrual bleeding, which may help reduce the amount of period cramping women experience, says Jaimie Maines, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Tape up your tummy
iStock/Patricia Chumillas Rodri
A favorite among fitness junkies, kinesiology tape is an elastic cotton strip that you apply over injured or sore muscles to increase circulation and improve range of motion. It's traditionally used to ease muscle and joint aches enough to power through a race or workout, but some studies suggest it can help at your time of the month as well. Research in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that taping near your pelvic region before you start your period and during menstruation can help significantly relieve menstrual pain. The tape helps stimulate the sensory receptors in your skin, thereby helping muscles relax to quiet your cramps.
Try it: Grab a roll at any sports store (and even some mass retailers like Walmart). Cut two strips roughly eight to 10 centimeters long (about the size of a menstrual pad) and apply one horizontal between your pelvic bones and the other vertical, starting right below your belly button, ultimately forming a cross. (Or just watch this super helpful video on proper application.)
While it's tempting to curl up in bed when you have menstrual cramp pain, doing the opposite and getting your body moving may help to improve cramping, Dr. Maines says. And that includes getting your heart rate up between the sheets. “Orgasms release endorphins, which will help make menstrual cramps less bothersome, as well as increase blood flow to the genital area, which can help relieve pain,” Dr. Maines explains.
Your psoas muscles—which wraps from your lower spine, around the front and down to the brim of the lower pelvis—are often a contributing factor to your monthly period pain. “This muscle modulates a lot of the stress and tension of daily life in order to protect our nervous system, but this taxation makes the psoas muscles dry and tensile. Because the nerves from the uterus literally perforate through these muscles, they become irritated and reactive, cranky, and crampy,” explains Eden Fromberg, doctor of osteopathic medicine, owner and founder of Holistic Gynecology New York. The best remedy? Hydration, which will help reduce that tension and therefore menstrual cramping, as well as gentle twists from side to side.
Ditch your heels
“High heels cause significant postural and pelvic instability, displace the uterus, and create even more psoas muscle stress and tension,” says Dr. Fromberg. Use your monthly visitor as an excuse to switch to flats or minimalist footwear with flexible soles for a week, she suggests.
We know: You’re already cranky and tired from PMS and cramps, and now we’re asking you to go without your morning java fix?! But forgoing the fuel can actually help you feel better: “Caffeine constricts blood vessels, so it may actually worsen menstrual cramping,” says Dr. Maines. That means cutting back on tea, coffee, soda, and even chocolate (sorry, ladies!).