As if the bloating, pimples and crying over anything wasn’t enough, for many folks who bleed, periods also bring on the dreaded, painful cramps.
So, what exactly are cramps and why do we get them?
Cramps are those impossible-to-ignore pains in your abdomen, back and/or upper legs that appear around the start of your period.
And, a little known fact is that they’re actually contractions! If you have a menstrual cycle, your body spends the month growing a nutrition-packed lining inside your uterus - this is ready to host an egg for possible pregnancy.
If you haven’t become pregnant during this cycle, then your body needs to shed this lining.
To do this, your body starts to make lots of prostaglandins (fat-like substances). Their job is to stimulate the muscles in your uterus to contract which helps to shed the lining (bleed).
Why do they hurt so much?
Sometimes the body makes more prostaglandins than are needed, and because they create contractions - more prostaglandins can mean more contractions.
There are also certain other factors and medical conditions that can give you bad cramps, including:
It’s thought that high levels of stress can lead to worse period pain or cramps (nearly doubling the chances of getting them!)
Endometriosis is a often painful condition affecting about 1 in 10 folks who bleed. It involves cells similar to those that grow inside a uterus each month growing in other areas of the body as well. This can lead to a lot of pain when they try to shed with nowhere to go.
Diets low in fibre-rich fruit and vegetables and high in processed foods can increase inflammation and make it hard for your digestive system to do its job. This might cause bloating, gas and other issues which can add to pain at period time.
How to deal with cramps?
To get some relief from your cramps, it helps to pick things that:
- Reduce inflammation and block pain
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as Ibuprofen, help to reduce painful cramps)
- Heat from a heat pack or shower (relaxes the muscles of your uterus)
- Changes to diet (try increasing fibre-rich fruit and veggies)
- Increase blood to your uterus:
- Exercise (regular exercise improves blood flow and hormone production)
- Practice deep breathing, mindfulness and prioritise rest
- Treat any underlying conditions, such as endometriosis
- Your doctor can support you to create a management plan based on your individual needs.
Did you find this article helpful?
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