Can You Heal Menstrual Cramps With Home Remedies?
Most of the time, menstrual cramps can be treated at home. For extremely painful cramps, however, you should consult your physician.
Medical interventions you may need for your anti-cramping arsenal include prescription pain relievers offering higher potency than you can buy in the store; birth control in the form of pills, patches, vaginal rings, implants, or injections; or hormonal intrauterine devices, Tang says.
Home Remedies Often Do the Trick
To help reduce period pain, here are 10 safe and effective home remedies for menstrual cramp relief.
1. Boost Feel-Good Endorphins With Exercise
When researchers in Australia examined nearly two dozen studies about home remedies for menstrual pain, exercise proved to be number one. Moving the body was even (moderately) more effective than taking a pain-relieving medication, they wrote in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2019.
Tang says many of her patients are helped by exercise, including cardio and strength training. This is likely because exercise increases hormones like progesterone and dopamine that diminish pain.
2. Try Yoga Poses to Ease Menstrual Pain
Whether it’s the stretching of your muscles or the relaxing effect of the poses, a regular yoga practice can indeed help your cramps.
Yoga exercises were found to be especially helpful in several of the studies the Australian authors examined.
In one, for example, 20 undergraduate students who did an hourlong yoga program once a week for three months had less menstrual cramping and period distress than 20 other women who didn’t.
Most yoga instructors say you can practice during your periods or between them, but some advise women against doing inverted poses (like a shoulder stand) in the midst of menstruation, so as not to interfere with your natural flow.
3. Curl Up With a Heating Pad to Ease Period Cramps
“The uterus is a muscle, so anything that helps relax muscles, like applying heat, can be beneficial, Thielen says.
Indeed, research published in Evidence-Based Nursing found that heat was just as effective as ibuprofen for period cramps. Over the two study days, the women used heat alone, heat plus ibuprofen, ibuprofen alone, or a placebo. The best results were in the heat plus ibuprofen group; adding heat led to faster improvements.
Another study, in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, found that women who applied a heat patch on their lower abdomen reported the most pain reduction even after eight hours compared with those who self-medicated with over-the-counter pain relievers.
4. Pop a Safe Painkiller to Cut the Inflammation
Moderate use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) is one of the best ways to curb period pain, Thielen recommends. This is because NSAIDs reduce the amount of prostaglandins in the body. For this reason, taking a pill just before you get your period can keep the level of pain-causing prostaglandins from rising, she says.
As with any medicine, you should first check with your doctor to be sure NSAIDs are a good choice for you, especially if you have a history of bleeding or stomach or kidney issues.
5. Acupuncture May Relax the Nervous System
In a review published in April 2016 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, experts looked at 42 studies that observed the effects of acupuncture on period cramps. Each compared acupuncture with no treatment, conventional treatment (such as anti-inflammatory drugs), or a sham acupuncture procedure. Many of the studies found that the acupuncture group had less period pain with no side effects. The researchers emphasize that here too, though, the quality of all the studies was poor.
If you do see an acupuncturist, Tang suggests asking them about adding moxibustion, a type of Chinese therapy where mugwort herbs are burned close to the skin. The herbs and the heat seem to combine to relieve the cramping, she says.
6. Or Try Acupressure Pressure Points You Can Do Yourself
Acupuncture must be performed by a trained professional, but acupressure, which involves finger pressure instead of tiny needles, can be done yourself at home. This was another method found to be effective in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine review.
In an Iranian study, the authors found acupressure was beneficial in reducing pain, as they reported in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.
One pressure point you can try pressing on is called the Sanyinjiao point (SP-6), which was used in some research studies. This point is located on the inside of the leg, a four-finger height above the ankle.
7. Some Herbs Can Calm Menstrual Cramping
Cinnamon and ginger have been shown to be effective when it comes to menstrual cramps, researchers reported in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in July 2023. Both inhibit pathways that lead to blood vessel constriction and cramping.
Chamomile is another herb that may help with cramps, although the evidence is limited, according to the Cochrane Library.
Herbal teas, such as chamomile and peppermint, have been used by menstruating women in numerous cultures for centuries because they are calming to the body. Other teas associated with dysmenorrhea are those made from cramp bark or fennel.
8. Up the Magnesium in Your Diet
Dietary magnesium seems to ease the pain of cramps, Tang says.
One literature review published in Magnesium Research in 2017 found some scientific support for magnesium’s reduction of period pain.
Magnesium is found in many foods, including almonds, black beans, spinach, yogurt, and peanut butter.
If you want to take a magnesium supplement, Tang suggests limiting your dose to no more than 400 milligrams (mg) a day, which is generally considered a safe amount.
9. Massage With Essential Oils for Pain Relief
A massage with certain aromatic essential oils can relieve menstrual cramp pain, according to a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. Investigators asked 48 women with menstrual cramps and other symptoms to massage either essential oils or a synthetic fragrance into their lower abdomen between periods.
Women in both groups reported reduced pain, but the essential oils group did better. On the basis of the women’s reports, researchers found that the duration of pain was reduced by almost half a day after a self-massage with the essential oils.
Some essential oils thought to be helpful include lavender, clary sage, and marjoram.
Just be sure you’re using essential oils safely. Buy high-quality oils that are tested for purity. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy suggests diluting pure essential oils in an unscented cream, lotion, or carrier oil before placing it on your skin to avoid irritation.
10. Improving Your Diet May Alleviate Period Cramps
Women who adhere to the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, have fewer instances of menstrual pain, Spanish scientists concluded in the journal Nutrients in 2020. And women in the study who ate fewer than two fruits a day were some of the most likely to have this pain.
A low-fat vegetarian diet may also ease cramps, according to a study of 33 women with dysmenorrhea published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Heavily plant-based eating plans are not only good for your cramps, but will enhance your heart health, too.
Start by swapping out less healthy fats like the saturated fats found in animal products or polyunsaturated fats for healthier ones like olive oil, suggests the American Heart Association. Examples of meals not overly reliant on unhealthy fats can be found in the healthy eating plate guide from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.