Anyone who’s had a period knows it comes with more than just blood. Bloating, fatigue and irritability are all common experiences during that time of the month. However, the number one complaint from people who menstruate is period pain.
If you’re experiencing painful periods, you’re not alone. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, over 84% of women report experiencing menstrual pain (1). Learning about period pain and how to reduce it will make your period less stressful. So, let’s get started!
What is period pain?
Period pain, called dysmenorrhea, is typically caused by a cramping sensation in your lower abdomen. Period cramps can spread to your lower back, giving you a broader sense of body aches (2). Menstrual cramps can also come with other symptoms, most commonly headaches and nausea. Period pain is categorized into two types: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea, the most common, is regularly experienced before and during menstruation. Secondary dysmenorrhea occurs when periods become more painful over time due to other conditions (3). While primary dysmenorrhea is normal and expected during each period, secondary dysmenorrhea is something to look out for as you observe changes in your period over the years.
Why are periods painful?
There are a few different reasons you may experience pain during your period. Here are the top 5 causes of period pain:
Period cramps fall under primary dysmenorrhea and are the most common complaint about periods. During menstruation, your uterus produces an elevated amount of a hormone called prostaglandins. This causes the uterus to contract, temporarily halting blood and oxygen flow to the muscle and resulting in cramps (4). If you’ve already experienced your first period, you’re likely very familiar with menstrual cramps and know that cramping is a normal and expected part of your cycle.
Reproductive health conditions
Underlying medical conditions can affect your period pain, especially those that directly affect your reproductive health. Conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease are associated with dysmenorrhea and can impact your reproductive health (3). Cervical stenosis, a rarer condition, can also lead to cervix pain and dysmenorrhea as it narrows the cervix and builds up the pressure in your uterus.
Ongoing medical conditions
The menstrual cycle can also change in other ongoing medical conditions you may have. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis can experience increased pain, fatigue, and arthritic flares as progesterone levels decrease during their cycle (5). This can lead to increased discomfort when inserting your tampon or performing daily activities. If you have an ongoing medical condition that you deal with daily, it’s worth learning how your condition interacts with your menstrual cycle.
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a form of contraception. The T-shaped device made of copper or plastic is inserted through the opening of the cervix and into the uterus by a doctor or medical professional. You may experience cervix pain which can feel like period cramps when the IUD is first inserted (6). In the first few months after insertion, IUDs can sometimes lead to period pain, irregular periods, bleeding between periods, vaginal discharge, or pain during sex (7). Soon, the IUD should feel comfortable enough that you forget it’s there.
Inserting tampons incorrectly
Sometimes, other factors outside of primary and secondary dysmenorrhea make your period uncomfortable. If your tampon causes pain or discomfort, it’s possible you are having trouble inserting the tampon at the correct angle or depth. For example, inserting your tampon too deep can result in cervix pain if the tampon hits your cervix and shifts inside your body. When a tampon is correctly inserted, you shouldn’t feel discomfort while wearing it.
How do you reduce period pain?
Looking for solutions? Don’t worry. We’ve got you! Here are a few easy ways to manage your period pain at home.
- Heating pads
- Pain killers
- Tampon insertion aid
- Physical exercise
On those extra-crampy days, soothe away the cramps with some warmth. Try resting a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen. A warm bath can also do the trick! If you need more help, anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, relieve pain and lessen your uterus’ production of prostaglandins (2) to reduce cramps.
Try an assistive device if you are experiencing pain when inserting your tampon due to arthritis or another condition that limits your mobility. TINA, the one-of-a-kind tampon insertion aid, gives you extra reach and mobility to help relieve the strain of inserting/removing tampons. TINA can also help reduce any problems you have inserting the tampon at the correct depth and angle to make regular tampon use much more comfortable.
During your period, it’s important to find a balance between rest and exercise. Some days, you may rather take a nap than exercise when you have period fatigue. Give your mind and body a rest when needed with relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and plain old rest. But when you’re feeling up to it, even light exercise, like taking a walk, can help reduce pain.
There you have it! We hope these solutions can help make menstruation more manageable. Period pain doesn’t have to stop you from living your best life, even when it’s that time of the month! If you still have questions and concerns about period pain and your reproductive health, always consult your physician or a gynecologist.
- Giovanni Grandi, Serena Ferrari, Anjeza Xholli, Marianna Cannoletta, Federica Palma, Cecilia Romani, Annibale Volpe, and Angelo Cagnacci. Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea? Journal of Pain Research, Volume 5, pp. 169–174. June 2012. [Cited 2022 August 19]. Accessed from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392715/
- Medline Plus. Period Pain. National Library of Medicine. [Internet]. November 2016. [Cited 2022 August 19]. Accessed from: https://medlineplus.gov/periodpain.html
- Martel, Janelle. What Causes Painful Menstrual Periods and How Do I Treat Them? Healthline. May 2020. [Cited 2022 August 19]. Accessed from: https://www.healthline.com/health/painful-menstrual-periods
- Davidson, Jordan. 7 Reasons You Have Period Pain. Everyday Health. [Internet]. January 2018. [Cited 2022 August 19]. Accessed from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/reasons-your-period-might-painful/
- Kim Colangelo, Sara Haig, Ashley Bonner, Caleb Zelenietz, Janet Pope. Self-reported flaring varies during the menstrual cycle in systemic lupus erythematosus compared with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Rheumatology, Volume 50, Issue 4. April 2011. Pages 703–708. Accessed from: https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/50/4/703/1777760
- Planned Parenthood. What’s an IUD insertion like? Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. [Internet]. 2022. [Cited 2022 August 29]. Accessed from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud/whats-an-iud-insertion-like
- English National Health Services. Period Pain. NHS UK. [Internet]. August 2019. [Cited 2022 August 22]. Accessed from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/period-pain/