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Why we get period pain (and tips to make it suck less)

For some, period pain is can be felt as cramping in lower abdomen. For others, it’s a cramp in the lower back. Essentially, it sucks, but it shouldn’t interfere with your everyday life and it’s nothing some natural remedies or a bit of ibuprofen can’t help with, according to Lara Briden, naturopath and author of the Period Repair Manual: Every Woman’s Guide to Better Periods.

So what does cause period-related pain? (And, for this one, no, no it’s not the patriarchy. But we like your pizazz.)

The low down about down-low

First up, no, your body isn’t trying to be a jerk (and your body is you, so play nice!). The cramps are most likely a by-product of prostaglandins – a hormone-like substance that helps your muscles contract and relax. This contracting motion helps ditch the uterine lining and move the blood flow along. If you have an excess of prostaglandins, the uterine contractions can feel like cramps.

While it’s a still a little bit of a mystery why some people get cramps and others don’t, there are some ideas. Generally speaking, age can be a factor – if you’re below 30, you’re more likely to suffer from period pain. Same for if you smoke. Stress can be a contributing factor, too.

Severe cramps

Having said that, if your cramps are so bad that you can’t go to work or do your usual day-to-day stuff, occur later during your period and don’t go away with period pain meds, it’s important you talk to your doc to rule out any potential underlying causes.

Non-period-related period pain (also known as secondary dysmenorrhea) is usually much more severe than primary dysmenorrhea (period-related period pain) and can feel like throbbing or burning pain. Generally, the pain lasts for longer than one or two days and occurs between periods, too. It can be caused by conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis or pelvic floor dysfunction.

Tips to relieve period pain

First, period pain usually gets better as you get older. In the meantime, young beans, here are some methods to help get you through those cramps:

  • Zinc: Another hit for reducing prostaglandins. According to Briden, it also helps improve blood flow to the uterus.
  • Magnesium: This wonderful substance is said to help with all kinds of things – anxiety, stress and, the money shot, period pain. It is believed to help reduce the prostaglandins released, hence helping with the cramp-y feeling. It’s not a quick fix, though – you should take it throughout your cycle, not just when you get your period. Oh, also you can get too much of this good stuff and give yourself a dose of diarrhea, so be mindful of how much you have.
  • Ibuprofen: This also helps reduce prostaglandins.
  • Hot water bottle: Yeah. Baby. This supremely old school trick helps the uterine muscles relax. If you’re a tea addict, you can sub the hot water bottle out for some soothing herbal tea to get the same effect. Or you can just submerge yourself in a warm bath and let all your muscles relax.
  • Exercise: Yup, it can help ease your uterine muscles and ditch some of those prostaglandins. You can opt for more low intensity activity if you’re just not feeling it, like going for a walk.

Don’t suffer in silence

Thanks to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, US clinicians have been advised to ask about the patterns of adolescent patients’ periods, because the world is beginning to understand that our periods are not something to be ignored and endured – they are a key to overall health. Also, us non-doctor folk can find it hard to suss out what’s normal and what’s not, so it’s really important that you have a doctor who you can comfortably talk about your period with. That includes the length of your period, flow, feelings and period pain. Yes, the whole shebang.

There’s no way to sugar coat it – period pain sucks. But it is also an indicator of your underlying health and a little clue about what’s going on inside that magnificent bod of yours.

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