People who have periods are no strangers to pain and discomfort. The cramping, bloating and back tension that you may experience during those first few days of menstruation are a result of natural chemicals called prostaglandins, which make the uterus contract to help shed blood and tissue.
“Those contractions will squeeze some of the blood vessels supplying the uterus, so you have less oxygen flowing to the uterine muscle,” said Dr. Chenita Landry, a board-certified physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology at the Valencia Center for Women’s Health in California and other practices across the country.
“That’s a problem because, as a general rule, the cells in your body don’t enjoy being deprived of oxygen.”
In other words, Landry said, period pain is “not all in your head.”
Everything from exercise and heat application to massage can help produce pain-blocking chemicals and manage discomfort, according to Dr. Monte Swarup, a board-certified OB-GYN in Arizona and the founder of the information platform Vaginal Health Hub.
That said, the level of discomfort you should experience has a limit. Pain that exceeds what’s considered normal could be a sign of a larger underlying issue such as endometriosis or primary dysmenorrhea, a common condition that involves higher levels of prostaglandins, according to Landry.
“Normal period pain consists of mild cramping that starts a few days before your period and ends by the time your period is over. The discomfort can be controlled with self-care measures like heating pads or over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium,” Landry said.
“Anything beyond that is too much pain. You definitely shouldn’t be missing school, work or social events because of your periods.”
Keep reading to see the various over-the-counter products and self-care measures that Landry, Swarup and other experts recommend to help manage period pain.
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Herbal heating patches
These fast-heating and ultrathin patches are great for reducing cramps or sore muscles while going about your everyday routine. They are infused with herbal ingredients like rose, lemon and jasmine oil to supplement the gentle warming therapy and offer up to eight hours of heat. Additionally, these pads adhere to undergarments, not skin, which means they won’t slide off when you sweat.