Discomfort during menstrual cycles has been normalized, however something can be done besides reaching for the ibuprofen!
Menstrual Cramps occur due to a chemical compound called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin is naturally present in the body and its role is to contract and relax the uterus. During your period, prostaglandin is released in order for the uterus to contract & endometrium (uterine lining) to detach and flow out of the body. When excessive prostaglandin is released the uterus contracts too strongly which causes a decrease in oxygen to the uterine muscle tissue resulting in cramping.
Dysmenorrhea is a medical term for having pain with periods and over 80% of women are affected by this at some point in their lifetime.
There are 2 diagnosis categories of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary:
- Primary (more common type) – lasts 1-2 days during the beginning of your period. Pain can range from mild to severe, and be present in the abdomen, back and thighs.
- Secondary- caused by a disorder in the reproductive organs. This pain typically begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer. Conditions that contribute to this include endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Things you can do to relieve menstrual cramps without meds:
- Use a TENS unit, this sends pulses through the skin to the nerves and blocks pain signals to the brain. A physical therapist can help identify the ideal pad placement for you.
- Perform abdominal & pelvic girdle massage, this will relax the tissue restrictions in the abdomen and muscles surrounding the pelvis that can be contributing to cramps or bloating. A physical therapist can teach you techniques to self-massage.
- Women who exercise regularly, often report less menstrual pain. When you exercise, a hormone called endorphins is released which blocks pain receptors to the brain. Exercise also improves blood circulation through the body to open up the cramped blood vessels going to the uterus. A physical therapist can teach you exercises that can increase your range of motion, improve mobility through the low back and pelvic region to reduce stiffness.
- Kinesio Taping has been shown to relieve cramping pain by gently lifting the skin off of the pelvic area to allow for improved blood flow to the uterus. A Physical therapist can show you taping techniques.
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on the low back or abdomen this improves blood circulation and relaxes tight muscles.
If you are dealing with painful periods, pelvic physical therapy can help.