Period cramps are a very normal part of the menstrual cycle, and really common too. According to the NHS, most women will experience period pain at some point in their lives, and some more intensely than others too. So let’s take a quick look at what period cramps are and how you can stop them becoming so intense that all you want to do is curl up in a ball and ignore the world!
What are period cramps?
Let’s dive in to what period cramps actually are. Here are five facts you need to know about period pain:
- Period cramps actually serve a purpose. They’re caused by uterine contractions, which are essential for helping the body to shed the uterine lining during your period.
- Each contraction squeezes the blood vessels that line the uterus, and this temporarily cuts off the blood supply to the uterus.
- As the blood supply is cut off, oxygen is also cut off, and this prompts the uterus to release chemicals that trigger pain.
- Other chemicals, called prostaglandins, are also produced which then prompt the uterine muscles to contract even more, resulting in more intense pain.
- The uterine contractions are stronger at the start of your period, when the body has more tissue to shed. That’s why your cramps are usually more painful at the start of your cycle, when bleeding is also more heavy too.
Why do some people have more intense cramps than others?
Just as we’re all unique individuals, we all have cycles that are unique to us too. Some people will experience more intense cramps than others, and while scientists don’t know for sure why, it’s thought that it could be due to a build up of prostaglandins in the body.
There are also some medical conditions that can cause intense period cramps:
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial tissue grows in other places in the body- such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Each month they build up as if they are in the uterus, and then bleed as normal- but the blood is unable to escape via the vagina due to the location. This can cause scarring and intense cramps.
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths which appear in and around the uterus. Most people don’t usually know they have them, as symptoms can be either very mild or non-existent. Lots of people only find out they have them during a routine examination such as a smear test.
For some, however, painful periods can be a sign that fibroids are present. Treatment is very quick and simple in most cases; speak to your doctor about the options available to you if you have fibroids.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease occurs when an infection travels up to the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries, via the vagina or cervix. It can cause very heavy and painful periods, and if left untreated there could be fertility issues later on too.
Speak to your doctor about treatment options as soon as possible if you have or suspect you have pelvic inflammatory disease. Other symptoms include pain in the pelvis and lower abdomen, pain when urinating, bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, pain during sex and unusual vaginal discharge.
Adenomyosis is a condition where the tissue that is normally lining the uterus begins to grow elsewhere within the muscular wall of the uterus. People suffering with the condition usually have heavy and painful periods as a result.
How to manage period cramps
The good news is that for most of us, period cramps don’t last too long and usually ease off within the first few days of your period. That said, those first few days can be pretty miserable.
Here are our top five tips for managing cramps when they strike hard:
- Be kind to yourself. Self care is not just a buzz word- for most of us, it’s pretty essential for our wellbeing. So if that means taking a duvet day, then so be it. You can always wake up and kick ass tomorrow!
- Make some lifestyle changes. Maybe you know that your cramps are worse when you don’t get enough sleep, or certain foods seem to trigger your cramps more than others. Listen to your body and respond when it’s telling you to ease off and take care of it.
- Treat the pain with heat. Sometimes all you need is a warm bath or a hot water bottle. The WUKA hot water bottle is wearable, with a handy pocket for your phone so you can carry on with your normal tasks while you ease your cramps.
- Paracetamol. Most people respond really well with over the counter pain relief, so keep some handy if you can.
- Wear comfy clothes. Nobody wants a waist band that digs in, and that goes for your underwear too. Go for high waisted period pants, or our Stretch Seamless period pants, which can stretch up to four sizes to accommodate bloating and keep you feeling supported and comfortable.
Foods to eat to ease period cramps
Some foods are best avoided if cramps are intense (hello refined carbs, processed meals and salty snacks!) and some are actually recommended to help ease them. Our top foods to eat during your period include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Iron rich foods
- Magnesium rich foods
- Protein rich foods
- Whole grains
Check out our post on foods to eat during your period for more information on why these foods should be part of your diet.
Drinks to help ease period cramps
Just as there are some foods you might want to avoid, there are also some drinks that are better for you than others. Sugary fizzy drinks and energy drinks won’t do you any favours, neither will alcohol or caffeine unfortunately. But there are some drinks that could help your cramps:
- Peppermint tea
- Ginger tea
- Pineapple juice
- Bone broth
- Chamomile tea
Again, you can read our post on drinks that help with period pain for more information on this.
Exercise for period cramps
Exercise is an amazing way to ease period cramps. When we move our body in ways that we enjoy, we relate endorphins which trigger the release of serotonins- the feel good hormones. This helps to relax the body and mind and studies have found that it can also help to relieve period cramps too.
Don’t forget to wear a pair of supportive period pants during exercise, to keep you leak-free and ready to perform- WUKA Perform period pants are made from recycled nylon so you can free flow and stay active no matter where you are in your cycle. We also have period leggings and period shorts, both of which have period pants stitched right in there so you don’t need to double up, or worry about VPL!
How do you stop period cramps fast?
One of the most effective ways of stopping period pain is by applying heat. Using a hot water bottle or taking a warm bath is recommended, along with over the counter pain relief such as paracetamol.
Why is my period so painful?
Period cramps are caused by uterine contractions that are essential to help the body shed the uterine lining. Very painful cramps could, however, be a sign of something else. Keep a track of your symptoms and speak to your doctor if you feel your cramps are more intense than most, so that you can rule out any other medical condition.
How long do period camps last?
Cramps tend to be most painful in the first couple of days of bleeding, easing off after a day or so. Some people will experience them for longer though, so tracking your cycle will help you to understand what’s normal for you.