Dysmenorrhea a.k.a. painful periods. Menstrual cramps that can bring us to our knees with pain so intense to induce nausea, including sharp and/or dull pains, and otherwise take us out of circulation. Dysmenorrhea is no treat, but it is an opportunity.
An opportunity to discover more about supporting our bodies and our selves, and what their needs are.
When I was in my 20s I started experiencing painful menstrual cramps, which would come on the first morning of my period and drop me to my knees. I would often vomit, the pain was so bad, and even though it was only the day, it was horrible. Many of us can suffer more than just one day, it might start before our menstruation actually does and not end until after we’ve stopped bleeding. However long our symptoms last, or for whatever intensity, there are things we can do to help ourselves! We needn’t suffer needlessly.
Frequently, some of us might first turn to pharmaceuticals… birth control and pain killers are often used. But for me, I was long past the point of not liking to interfere with my body process with drugs. I’d learned from my experience with migraines that the pain was a symptom from a greater cause, and so it was only so helpful to take medicine to get rid of the migraine, it’d just come back another day. Whereas, with changes to my eating (eating more frequently) and learning to meditate and otherwise nurture myself (like with yoga) and not put myself under florescent lighting, they soon stopped coming altogether! So, I wanted to use this same approach for the dysmenorrhea, which came a bit later in my life than my migraines.
Two Forms, One Relief
There are two forms of dysmenorrhea, primary dysmenorrhea, which just means that the cramps are not due to some other problem, like a pelvic disease or endometriosis. Whereas secondary dysmenorrhea means that the severe cramps are due to another problem, like the aforementioned. Either way, what’s important to know is the relief from dysmenorrhea often comes in the same package. So, it doesn’t necessarily take a diagnosis to get relief!
So, What Brings Relief to Dysmenorrhea?
There are two ways to approach this, what we can do all month long to help when menstruation comes and what we can do in the moment of experiencing painful menstrual cramps. Below are some ideas for both! This list is not exhaustive, so if you’re experiencing dysmenorrhea, have hope that there are lots of different things that have helped others, so experiment and find what’s most important to you and your experience of letting go of dysmenorrhea. Also what I want us to keep in mind is our cycles are just that, they give us feedback almost immediately, so we can try each of these suggestions one at a time, or all-together, for a few months to see if we notice any change, if we don’t we can always go back to what we were doing before, if we want.
1. Cut out the dairy!
In my own experience, dairy was my number one culprit in seriously increasing/decreasing my pain. Just this week, I had the joy of having a more pain filled start to menstruation (though nowhere close to vomit-inducing like before), and it was because of about a weeks worth of indulging in every cheesy fast food I could think of, whereas when I am pure vegan for a full cycle, I hardly even feel my uterus working.
Christiane Northrup notes in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom that it’s been shown that if we switch to organic (meaning no hormones and no antiobiotics) dairy that the dairy is not having the same adverse affects (meaning not same pain, etc.). So if you find the idea of giving up dairy too hard, you might decide to go organic instead. I don’t have dairy at the house, except for the goat’s cheese for my husband, so the only time I have dairy is when I crave fast food (or not preparing food!). So this isn’t the best option for me… letting dairy go is.
2. Getting Our Vitamins and Minerals!
Iron, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B have all been found to decrease dysmenorrhea and I'm sure later a whole host of other good vitamins and mineral will be found to be beneficial. I believe getting as much of these from food is much better than taking supplements, but if you don’t want to bump up nutrition, supplements are always an option. Rawsome by Brigitte Mars is a great raw food book that details a long list of fruits and vegetables and gives us lots of information on what nutrients each of them is good for providing or you can find a lot of this information online! If you don’t want to put in the effort to become more knowledgeable on the difference in the fruits and veggies, just get lots of greens and a good variety of everything else in season, in it’s natural state if possible… That way you’ll more than likely be covered!
3. Let Go of the Junk Food!
Wow, first no dairy, then more vitamins and minerals, then no junk food! Nutrition plays such a huge role in how our body works, think of it as putting in premium gas in instead of basic unleaded! We want our bodies (and our uterus) to drive like a luxury car, not the old clunker who’s barely getting by. Junk food, like fried food and processed foods are not foods, they’re somehow concocted and the process is not put a seed in the ground, give it water and see what comes up! Cookies, chips, white sugars and other processed foods are not helpful to the body, or the uterus. Our carbohydrates are best in their whole, unbleached, unprocessed forms. (White breads, white pastas are junk foods, sorry!) Forgo junk food to forgo dysmenorrhea!
4. Give The Uterus Some Oxygen!
Exercise is a wonderful way to help the uterus, it is a muscle after all, and having blood flowing through the uterus helps it work more efficiently and effortlessly. It doesn’t have to be intense knock-us-on-our-butts exercise! Walking, swimming, yoga, dancing, anything that gets you moving and releases stress is great…
Also, when in the middle of painful menstrual cramps I’ve often found breathing down into the uterus helpful! I’ll lay comfortably down on my side, I like the top knee bent, and the bottom leg straight and breath down visualizing, or feeling with my hand placed on my uterus, the breath coming down into the uterus. This is a wonderful aid in dealing with the pain in the moment without turning to drugs.
5. Dip in Some Warm Water!
Another helpful idea that I’ve used frequently for in-the-moment pain relief is warm water, either a hot bath or a hot shower can supply immediate relief. What is it about warm water that helps in birth and in menstrual cramps? There’s all kinds of theories, but I’ll tell you what I know, it feels so necessary and so right!
6. Nurture Our Nature!
Our “diets” don’t have to be perfect they need to be overall nurturing and life-supportive…and our lifestyle needs to be the same. If we’re going 90 miles an hour, sometimes our body has to find a way to get us to rest, and that can be by bringing in some major pain that puts us in bed!
This may also happen if we aren’t appreciating our body parts! Have you ever noticed that an area where someone’s complained about constantly is the area that gets injured or diseased? Well, if we’re not welcoming the work of our uterus, in fact if we’re angry or ashamed that she’s even there at all, she’ll reflect that right back to us. We can embrace the aspects of our nature, and our nature will purr more smoothly in response. Ask yourself, “How can I best nurture myself?” or “What does my body and spirit need to be more fully loved and nurtured?” Just like our cycle, those answers often change, and we can get immediate feedback by how our body responds. Sometimes big change is required, so be brave and really look for what is needed. Consistency is key in nurturing ourselves!
7. Massage the Clitoris!
This is another wonderful in-the-moment pain relief! I’ve often pleasured my clitoris when I’m having painful menstrual cramps. After all, it’s hard, if not impossible to experience pleasure and pain at the same time, and I’d rather enjoy the pleasure. This has always helped relieve the pain, sometimes the relief is for good, sometimes the pain comes back after I’ve finished massaging myself. A clitoris massage is a great thing to play with, if even just momentary relief! Grab some coconut oil and have fun!
8. A Few Ideas for the Road…
Though I haven’t tried these, if you’re not finding relief, I’ve also found the following suggestions online and in books. I can’t vouch for their helpfulness from personal experience, but I do believe our experience is unique, so the things that work may also be different! Acupuncture has been known to help with all kinds of menstrual and fertility issues, including dysmenorrhea. Acupuncture is best used on a regular basis until symptoms are under control. Also, castor oil packs have had lots of healing/nurturing benefits and good reviews for dysmenorrhea and as well as other symptoms of PMS. Use these warm and regularly throughout the month for the best benefit, except when bleeding heavily.
There are so many ways to help our selves, we just need to take the time to know our selves and our needs more. Be gentle and keep searching within, we are on a journey and dysmenorrhea is often our body giving us feedback that it needs assistance in a certain area… Being the detective and seeing what our bodies and spirits need is a wonderful way to grow and heal our bodies and our beliefs as we walk our path.
Dysmenorrhea to Menstruation Main Page.