Disclaimer: this article is not meant to diagnose, manage or treat disease. Please consult your personal physician before starting any new health regimen. This post also contains affiliate links at no cost to you. For more info, see my disclosures.
There's a taboo dimension beyond what's known to men.
It's the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
It's an area we call the Red Zone.
Granny panties. Angry reds. Debilitating abdominal pains. Not wearing anything white. It's a warped world no man could ever fully comprehend.
This isn’t just “female troubles.” This isn't just “having the monthly.” This is the life-force of humanity wreaking havoc on our bodies!
Since the dawn of time, women have more or less cursed the monthly process of shedding their uterine lining, causing a painful sensation known as cramps. Solutions to this problem are vague even though cramps affect up to 81% of women.
Recently, a male doctor confirmed period cramps can be just as painful as a heart attack. Thunderclaps sounded round the world as women everywhere slapped their foreheads. I think it's time to dissect this heavy topic once and for all with some practical Red Zone solutions.
Petition to rename all the phases of the menstrual cycle to this
1. Be Prepared
If your Girl Scout days prepared you for nothing but three days of singing and eating corndogs, take heart.
This is survival mode, and Bear Grylls ain't got a clue what it's like to survive without electricity and running water on the rag!
Make a list of essential supplies and plan ahead so you're not asking every woman and her mother in the ladies room for a tampon, or scrambling to the drug store with paper towels tucked in your undies (we've all been there!)
Practically speaking, though, there are several apps out there to help you plan ahead for trips, major life events, and other upcoming obligations. Period Tracker, Clue, Glow and Kindara are just a few apps geared toward helping women stay on top of their cycles and symptoms. These apps are also helpful for pregnancy planning in case you'd like a nice break from your periods in the name of baby making 🙂
It's difficult to turn your thoughts inward when your mind has been numbed by pain. Sure, meditation sounds nice in theory, but does it actually help? The health benefits of meditation and yoga are hard to ignore.
- improves immune function.
- improves general wellbeing.
- reduces anxiety.
- improves balance and flexibility.
- reduces pain perception.
- reduces the stress response.
- improves executive functions (planning, memory, attention span).
There are multiple apps to help you meditate on the go. Headspace and Insight Timer are popular, as are guided meditation videos on YouTube specific to anxiety, OCD, sleep, and healing.
If the mountain won't come to Muhammed, then take life by the balls and get up that mountain one savasana at a time!
3. Apply Body Oil
Douse. Rub. Repeat.
In November of 2016 scientists found lavender oil to significantly decrease arthritic pain in patients. The effects lasted up to seven days, and can relieve the same tender areas during menstruation.
Rose oil is another big winner in the essential oils category. In August 2016, it effectively decreased period cramps in a university study conducted in Turkey.
Overall, aromatherapy is more effective than placebos in decreasing period pain.
Other oils deserving honorable mention: chamomile, clary sage, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, juniper, marjoram, yarrow, clove, and turmeric. You only need to add a few drops to a carrier such as coconut oil or jojoba oil to get the full effect.
4. Drink Tea
In the same vein as natural oils, herbal teas do the body a great deal of good. More than 100 plants are suspected as having analgesic properties.
Without bogging you down with too many stats, these teas came through again and again as having the biggest impact on pain control:
- green tea
- fennel (do not take while pregnant or nursing)
- licorice root (do not take if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease)
- willow bark tea
- peppermint tea
- rosemary tea
- chamomile tea
- turmeric tea (Whole New Mom has a recipe for relieving cramps over here!)
You may have noticed some of the essential oils reappear in this column, as their healing properties can be extracted from soaking their leaves. Always talk to your doctor if you have any special conditions or medications which would preclude you from taking herbal teas for relief.
5. Change Positions Frequently
No need for downward dog or cobra pose, though apparently those yoga poses do help. Just do what feels comfortable in the moment and call it a day. Movement keeps blood circulating below the waist and prevents pooling in your legs and cervix.
6. Induce an Orgasm
Orgasms lead to uterine contractions, which in turn leads to the release of oxytocin. It's the same feel-good chemical released by the female body during childbirth. Orgasms would appear to be a natural wonder drug of sorts when it comes to female troubles, minimizing everything from PMS symptoms to headaches.
Other endorphins released during an orgasm, such as serotonin and dopamine, feed the reward center of our brains and raise our pain threshold.
7. Stay Hydrated
You're not just losing blood during your period. You're losing tissue and mucus, too (TMI, I know). All this adds up to about six to nine tablespoons of menstrual fluid.
Elevated prostaglandins (aid in muscle contraction) will make you more prone to diarrhea while on your period. Diarrhea dehydrates you even further!
Women start retaining fluid and blood late in their cycle thanks to #hormones.
Fluid retention in your tissues actually equates to less fluid in your bloodstream, which is why we all crave salty food on our periods!
Was your mind blown for a minute there or what?! Science be crazy!
8. Stay Away from Chocolate, Caffeine, or Salty Foods
Or not. The choice is yours. I think one cheat day out of an entire month is acceptable, especially if you and your lady friends are all synced up and decide to make a day of it.
Oscar Wilde demonstrated keen insight into the female condition when he stated,
"The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it."
Caffeine and salt will worsen dehydration, fluid retention and puffiness. There, I can say I warned you.
One day of fasting won't save you, but a diet regimen rich in plants and low in saturated fats (cheese, meat, etc) has been shown to decrease the duration and severity of cramps.
9. Use a Heating Pad
Heating pads work well to relieve lower back and abdominal pain. I've personally used this heating pad (more like a full body pad) with moderate success. It feels like a nice warm hug tucking you in to bed for the night. Wrap yourself in a little cocoon and don't forget to unplug the cord when you leave the house!
10. Take a Hot Shower
There's nothing worse than feeling gross during your period. A warm shower not only helps you feel more hygienic, but it applies heat therapy directly to your skin. Removing your tampon before showering helps to reduce blood buildup in the cervix.
11. Over-the-Counter Medications
You will likely find relief from NSAIDS such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), as these medications decrease inflammation and inhibit those nasty prostaglandins mentioned earlier. Midol comes in a variety of different formularies. Most contain Tylenol and caffeine to relieve pain and bloating. Midol Menstrual Complete – my saving grace – contains acetaminophen (Tylenol), caffeine, and an antihistamine (pyrilamine maleate) to reduce swelling.
Be sure to read the label and take these medications as directed. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about any reasons why you shouldn't take a pain reliever.
Exercise improves blood flow and hastens the menstrual process via gravity. Even if it's just a matter of taking a light walk from the couch to your fridge, every little bit helps!
In addition to light yoga, there's an exercise program tailored to women's reproductive health called the AVIVA Method. Aviva Steiner developed the method to increase blood flow to the muscles and organs of the pelvis. It can be done before your period to increase the amount of blood reabsorbed, and it can be done during your period to prevent clots near the cervix (thereby decreasing cramping).
Interestingly enough, if you've had a child and suffer from the oh-so-unpleasant problem of stress incontinence, these exercises also strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
13. Take a Nap or Go To Bed Early
We lose iron in our blood when we're on our periods, so you may be feeling a little more sluggish than usual. Be kind to yourself and take a little nap if possible.
If you're feeling especially tired, try incorporating some of these foods high in iron:
- legumes: beans, lentils, peas, hummus dip
- pumpkin seeds
- dark chocolate - as if you needed another excuse to eat chocolate!
Or....just take a nap and leave it at that.
14. Distract Yourself
There's a lot of great entertainment out there, like the movie Hustle & Flow, or the Red Wedding episode from Game of Thrones. Okay, seriously though, just watch one episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and try not to laugh. Those ladies kill me!
Find something that allows you to truly escape. Whether it's a Netflix binge or watching an old standby, you'll be glad when it's over and you've completely forgotten about your period.
15. Wear Comfy Clothes
If possible, ditch the heels and tight skirt in favor of something a tad more forgiving. Same goes for underwear. You're feeling bloated enough as it is.
16. Get a Massage
Stress can worsen your body's pain response. Deep tissue massage successfully reduces pain in people suffering from both acute and chronic pain so it's definitely worth a try.
17. Acupuncture or Acupressure
Both non-medicinal pain control methods effectively lower back and pelvic pain. In acupuncture, a licensed therapist uses needles to stimulate the body's intrinsic opioid system. Acu-pressure can be done at home by simply applying pressure to places on the skin that correspond with specific body organs.
A study published just last month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed the use of a phone app in self-guided acupressure was more effective in treating period cramps than self care alone!
There are several acupressure apps available to iPhones and android users. Acupressure Points Tips is available to android users.
18. Switch to Pads
Tampons can irritate the cervix and exacerbate cramping. Pads or external catchment devices are a viable alternative. Catchment devices are cheaper, more convenient, better for the environment, odorless and prevent exposure to harsh chemicals like bleach. These suckers have a lifespan of 10 years! Who knew?
Just a few of the menstrual catchment devices available. Photo courtesy of twitter.
To get a sense for how the devices work, check out this detailed tutorial from Mooncup. Of note, they can be worn during sexual activity if you're evenly remotely interested in Suggestion #6.
Another helpful tidbit: whereas tampons are fully saturated after 5mL of blood, a menstrual cup can hold up to 25mL of blood. You can also avoid the risk of toxic shock syndrome by switching to a cup.
19. Sit on Pillows
Just sit a spell, my dear. One practice that's worked for me in the past is doing Kegel exercises while sitting on stacks of pillows. Activating your pelvic floor muscles has this inexplicable ability to relieve some of the cramping pressure in the cervix and uterus. Can't hurt to give it a try!
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is the clinical term for intentionally tensing and relaxing targeted areas in the body to increase awareness of how the body responds to pain. Start by progressively tensing and relaxing your fists, arms, head, and neck, then continue moving downward until you reach the tips of your toes.
PMR is a widely accepted form of relaxation.
20. Do Something That Makes You Laugh
Laughter really is the best medicine. Dance in the rain, watch a funny video, read some Janet Evanovich, or call an old friend who says random, inappropriate things.
Next time you're feeling stuck in the Red Zone, gross out as many nearby males as possible. Be sure to include detailed descriptions of your bodily fluids and feminine products.
Watching my husband squirm always gives me a sense of gratification.
Our grandmothers taught us to embrace this "special time" as a nod to Mother Nature's circle of life. Nothing about our periods feels very special, but our bodies are pretty powerful machines if you think about it for a minute.
Until the next moon phase, ladies!
What are some of your go-to remedies for period pain? Leave suggestions in the comment box below!