Ugh, it’s that time of the month again, so you’ll find us curled up on the couch under a blanket, eating chocolate, and alternating between painkillers and tea. Although individual period symptoms can range from mild to all-out debilitating, chances are that most women can benefit from home remedies for menstrual cramps. They can prove especially helpful when your over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t up to snuff—or you want to avoid taking them for several days at a time.
First, let’s talk about what’s causing your menstrual cramps. You likely know this already, but your period is caused by the shedding of your uterine lining (only when you’re not pregnant, of course). But where does the cramping come in? “If the uterus contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels and cut off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissues in the uterus,” says Ramona Fasula, a certified holistic health coach and CEO of Wellness by Ramona. “When the oxygen supply is cut off, pain results.”
Never fear, because we’ve rounded up five home remedies for menstrual cramps that will keep discomfort at bay. Try one—or a combination of a few—and be amazed at their natural healing properties.
Give heat a go
Lots of women swear by putting a heating pad right onto their abdomen to get rid of cramps. “A heating pad is a woman’s best friend when it comes to menstrual cramps,” says Fasula. “Heat opens blood vessels and improves blood flow and dissipates the pain.” But what if you need to be in the office or on the go and you can’t be “plugged in”? Try one of those adhesive hot packs that usually last for up to eight hours, says Alyssa Dweck, gynecologist and author of V Is for Vagina.
Although working out is probably the last thing you want to do with a heavy flow, you can beat cramps before your period starts (yes, seriously). Dweck notes that breaking a sweat helps produce hormones that prevent cramp pain—and the endorphins can be stored in the body. “Consider ramping up your workouts the week before your period is supposed to start,” Dweck says. “Women who exercise regularly often note improvement in cramps.”
Soak in an Epsom salt bath
Take a dip in the bath. Add 1 to 2 cups of the salt to a warm bath a couple of days before you expect to have cramps, says Jessica Hutchens, MD. Not only will the heat from the water help to soothe your cramps, but so will the magnesium from the Epsom salt (magnesium has been found to help relax the uterus). You can continue to take these baths until you start to get relief.
Try a massage with essential oils
We’ve already mentioned that essential oils can do wonders for anxiety, but did you know they also can be cure-alls for pain relief? A 2012 study found that a combination of lavender, sage, and marjoram oils was helpful in treating menstrual cramps (the women simply massaged the formula onto their abdomen for a few days). Cindy Santa Ana, an AADP integrative nutrition health coach and the author of Unprocessed Living, says she recommends clary sage essential oil and that it should be applied in the same way.
“It works just as well as an ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but it's safer,” she says. “It regulates estrogen and acts as an antispasmodic.”
As always, it’s important to listen to your body, especially when you’re not feeling your best. Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, which helps to rejuvenate you. “My advice: Listen to your body, and respect its limits,” says Tanya Kormeili, MD, FAAD. “The biggest myth is that there is a universal solution for all women to uniformly have the same period experience.”
What did you think of these home remedies for menstrual cramps? Do you have any others to add to our list? Be sure to sound off in the comments.
Up next: the common signs of endometriosis.