For some, this may be a rare event with mild symptoms and a passing inconvenience. Other women however may not be as lucky, being regularly plagued with severe, cramping pain each month, as well as other symptoms of PMS.
Period pains are usually felt the day a period is due and settle within a day or so after menstrual bleeding starts. They are usually described as cramping pains in the lower part of the tummy (lower abdomen).
When the pain is at its worst, it may spread to the lower back and upper part of the thighs. As pain subsides, it may be felt as a slight heaviness in the tummy.
In the days leading up to
menstruation, tissues lining the inside of the uterus (womb) start to
disintegrate in preparation for the monthly bleed. Muscles in the uterus
contract and as they do so, blood supply to the womb is interrupted.
This results in a reduction of oxygen to uterine tissues and the release of chemicals that trigger inflammation and pain.
pain is usually felt in the lower part of the abdomen because this is
where the uterus sits. However, pain can spread to surrounding parts of
the body such as the lower back and upper thighs and there are two
reasons for this:
- The inflammatory ‘pain’ chemicals produced by the uterus can migrate to surrounding tissues
- Pain signals from the uterus travel up to the brain in the same
nerve channels as those coming from surrounding parts of the body. This
confuses the brain making it difficult to know where the pain is coming
from and is known as ‘referred pain’.
Remember that period pain can
sometimes be an indication of a more serious problem such as
endometriosis or ovarian cysts. If your period pains last more than one
week or affect you for most of the month, you should seek the advice of
When your lower abdomen is
aching, you just want to curl up into a ball and wait for the pain to
subside. However, this is not often an option as we have to get on with
life. Nor is it the best way to get rid of the pain.
In fact, as the
pain is caused by muscular cramps, one of the best things you can do is
go outdoors, get some good oxygen into your lungs and stretch your
muscles. You do not need to go for intense exercise - a brisk walk might
just help alleviate your pain.
Warmth is a good way of helping with
pain of any kind, so cuddling a hot water bottle or using a heat pad can
be very comforting. Remember not to put the heat directly onto bare
skin though, as you may burn yourself. A warm bath or shower may help to
relax your muscles in the same way as a hot water bottle.
suggest that magnesium helps to reduce muscular cramps. It acts as a
muscle relaxant and also lowers the level of prostaglandins, a group of
compounds which cause inflammation and pain.
herbalists will consider Agnus castus to be the treatment of choice
when dealing with period pains. This herb is also known as Chasteberry –
it is the berries of the plant which are used medicinally.
castus has been used for many years to treat menstrual disorders in
women. There is good evidence for its use in reducing period pains as
well as to help other PMS symptoms such as bloating, irritability, low
mood and anxiety.
If you are taking oral contraceptives, hormonal
medication or HRT, speak to your doctor before using Agnus castus as it
may not be suitable for you.
doctor is likely to suggest the use of painkillers to treat period
pain. This class of medicines may be bought without a prescription and
this is how many women cope with period pains. However, some women may
require stronger painkillers available only on prescription.
painkillers do not tackle the root of the problem and if period pains
are severe, your doctor will consider the use of hormonal treatments,
starting with the oral contraceptive pill. This has the effect of
preventing ovulation and thus, artificially controlling the monthly
If you are concerned about your health and think your period
pains may be caused by conditions other than PMS, seek medical advice.
Keep track of your symptoms with our PMS Diary to identify patterns & help discover ways to minimise them.