If you’re like more than half of menstruating women, you experience some type of pain surrounding the time of your period. For twenty percent of these women, the pain is severe enough to interfere with daily activities. For seven to eight percent, the pain can be completely debilitating and often is a result of PCOS or endometriosis. Sometimes, medicating with OTC or prescription painkillers is warranted, however it should be your last resort. There are a multitude of alternative ways to help mitigate period pain that should come before you reach for the medicine cabinet.
-Exercise/Movement: I know getting up from the fetal position is the last thing your body wants to do, but movement can often work magic against the pain! This is not the time for high intensity or super heavy lifting but rather consistent, moderate exertion. Giving the remainder of your body focused, purposeful movement to perform increases circulation and blood flow. In addition to this (and key in my experience), it brings the attention of your mind away from focusing on the pain in your uterus. Instead, bringing focus to the contraction of your back muscles as you perform pull-ups, the burn in your quads as you are pedaling uphill, squeezing your gluts as you squat and voila!...the pain has subsided!
-Yoga: Shifting your awareness to the synchronization of your breath and movement is yet another way to get moving when moving may feel like the last thing you want to do. A yoga sequence consisting of gentle twists and contractions, leads to openness and relaxation (the opposite feeling of that teeth clenched, tight fetal position!).
-Diet: Dialing in your diet, especially the two weeks before your period begins, is key to setting yourself up for as little distress as possible. Fluctuating hormones are the culprits for those sweet and salty cravings. Avoiding alcohol, sugar, fried foods and refined carbs can aid in minimizing pain. By focusing on whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, you are providing the nutrients your body needs as it works over time during your cycle, as well as giving your digestive system a break.
Relaxation techniques: Relaxing the mind is critical when dealing with pain. Breathwork and meditation calm our senses which gives permission to our body to take a break. Solely focusing on your inhales and exhales, while recognizing the pain but not getting caught up in it, can actually lead to less pain!
-Heat Pad/Hot Bath/Sauna: Heat aids in circulation and eases tension that is often present in your abdomen. A heating pad or hot water bottle can feel very soothing on your abdomen. A hot bath with epsom or magnesium salts or a sauna are also fantastic ways to calm your entire nervous system and body, often leading to less pain.
-TENS Unit/Acupuncture: If you have access to a TENS unit, the light contraction/release can assist your bodies natural contractions and process of eliminating the lining of your uterus. Acupuncture can help re-establish the flow where it may have become stuck due to blockages. Both of these modalities help to relax your body and mind, as well as provide assistance to the hard work your body is doing.
Experimenting with all of these tactics should come before popping the pills. The key to all of them is consistency. Pick the ones that you can apply to your lifestyle consistently, and you may be astonished at how much control you can possess over your pain.