Around “that time of the month” it’s common to feel painful muscle cramps in the stomach.
Whilst it’s a normal part of the menstruation cycle, the pain can be incredibly debilitating, upsetting and downright inconvenient.
According to intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA’s resident gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta, period pains are often caused by the womb muscle contracting, which typically tends to start on the first day of your period.
Although period cramps may seem like the end of the world at times, Dr Shree Datta lends six top tips and tricks for ditching them fast – and there’s not a hot water bottle in sight.
Yes, we know. Exercising is the last thing on your mind when you’ve got cramps, but it can actually help.
Aerobic exercise like walking or yoga is thought to stimulate the release of beta-endorphins – the feel-good hormones – which can help to relieve some types of pain.
One study found regular exercise for 45-60 minutes three times a week throughout the menstrual cycle reduced period pain, regardless of intensity.
Regular exercise may also tackle aspects such as bloating and tiredness that can occur in the weeks before or after your period.
Follow A Balanced Diet
Dr Shree Datta recommends eating a balanced diet that includes foods that are rich in complex carbs and high in fibre.
Fish, nuts and calcium can also be helpful.
Drinking plenty of water helps to decreases bloating which is what makes the pain worse.
So, it’s best to keep a bottle of water handy to keep on top of your intake.
However, you should reduce your caffeine as it restricts your blood vessels and makes your period pains more intense.
A TENs Machine (often used in labour) can also help with period pains.
This is a small battery-operated device with leads that are connected to sticky pads that you attach directly to your skin.
TENS machines are portable, non-invasive and easy to use when needed.
They work by delivering small electrical impulses directly to the skin, resulting in a tingling sensation.
This can alter the signals to the brain, affecting hormonal balance and blood flow which in turn affects your pain level.
Quit Alcohol and Smoking
Research also suggests that smoking and drinking alcohol can affect period pains.
In fact, a recent study has shown that smoking increases the risk of period problems – including painful periods by almost 1.5 times.
Women who have stopped smoking have still got a higher risk of period pains.
The theory is that components in tobacco can reduce blood flow, which can affect oxygen levels and contractility in the womb.
The links between alcohol and period pains are a little hazier, but there are some studies that show a higher risk of discomfort and premenstrual symptoms in the time leading up to your periods.
Meditation and breathing techniques can be useful as it helps to calm the mind.
Being on your period can understandably cause some pretty unpleasant moods, so by reducing the feeling of stress, which can cause dysmenorrhea – menstrual cramps – you’re likely to reduce these side effects.
Studies have suggested that yoga can also help to reduce physical PMS symptoms like water retention.
And whilst there are no strict guidelines, some women find drinking tea (mint or camomile), gentle massages and lying on their back helpful.
Simple over the counter painkillers such as Ibuprofen and paracetamol can help manage period pains, but if these are not enough, speak to your doctor.
Non-steroidal pain relief including ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac have shown to be more effective than paracetamol.
Try and only take painkillers if you need them, rather than regularly throughout your period.
If you go to any pharmacy, you can find specialist pain killers to target period pains, but it’s worth looking at what’s in them before buying them.
Perhaps speak to your chemist before buying painkillers for some informal advice and direction.
However, Dr Shree Datta said if your symptoms are becoming unmanageable you should consult your GP.
She said: “We’ll explore the reasons for your pains and offer specialist pain relief, or the contraceptive pill. We may also consider the Mirena coil.
“In some cases, surgery may be a more appropriate treatment, but this can range from a day-case procedure to have a look inside your womb (hysteroscopy) or a laparoscopy to have a look inside your tummy to a hysterectomy depending on what’s causing your symptoms.
“We’ll always discuss your needs and preferences before deciding what treatment is best for you – for example, if you are trying for a baby, the contraceptive pill is not a suitable treatment.”