Updated 12th July 2022

How to stop period cramps

Painful cramping is a common symptom for many people during their period. While everyone experiences their period differently, a survey study showed that over 80% of women experience cramps. 

When you’re on your period, your uterine tissues contract to help shed tissue. This can cause you to feel moderate or even severe pain.

You may not be able to stop cramps completely, but there are things you can do that might provide some relief.

These include keeping a healthy diet, taking certain medications, trying heat therapy, and exercising.

Here are six ways to help stop period cramps.

1. Nutrition

The foods you eat can play a big part in how you feel during your period. 

A balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is important for overall health and may help relieve period cramps.

There is also some evidence that eating dark chocolate, fish, and dairy is linked with less pain during your period.

While certain foods may be able to help with period cramps, evidence suggests that foods high in saturated fat, salt, and added sugars can make them worse. 

2. Herbs and spices

A well-rounded diet is important, and limited evidence suggests that certain herbs and spices — such as ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, fennel, and cumin — may also help relieve period pain. 

Most of the studies have looked at herbs and spices in the form of supplements.  

You can also add these herbs and spices to a variety of foods. They are a delicious and healthy addition to vegetables, fruits, meats, and even water. 

Here are some combinations you may be familiar with:

  • blackening spice: paprika, garlic, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, and black pepper

  • Chinese five spice: anise, cinnamon, clove, fennel, and Sichuan pepper

  • curry powder: turmeric, cumin, coriander, and red pepper

  • Italian seasoning: basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and red pepper

  • Caribbean jerk seasoning: allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and scotch bonnet peppers

  • taco seasoning: cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic, and onion powder

Many herbs and spices associated with cramping relief can also be consumed as delicious teas or through supplements. 

3. Hydration

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health, including when you’re on your period. 

Dehydration can lead to many different complications such as constipation, mood changes, fatigue, and even kidney injury. There are some studies suggesting that dehydration can also make you more sensitive to acute pain.

Hormone changes during menstruation can change how your body utilizes water. Instead of water and sodium staying in the vessels, they can leak into the surrounding tissue, which leads you to be more prone to dehydration.

This means your body needs more water to replenish itself and fill up the vessels again. 

Staying hydrated might help relieve period pain, according to one study. They found drinking more water was associated with less intense pain and less bleeding time in women with painful periods. 

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4. Medications

Certain over-the-counter medications can be a safe and effective way to reduce cramping and body aches during your period. 

In a recent study, researchers compared a variety of over-the-counter pain relievers and their effect on period pain.

They found that when compared with other pain killers included in the study, ibuprofen was particularly safe and effective.

Ibuprofen is a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, often referred to as NSAIDs. While evidence suggests NSAIDs can help relieve period pains, it is important to consider their side effects.

These include indigestion, headaches, and drowsiness.

NSAIDs can also interact with certain medications. It may not be safe for everyone, especially in cases of certain chronic conditions like kidney disease. 

Make sure you speak with your healthcare professional to pick the best option for your specific needs.

5. Heat

You may be familiar with using heat for some cramp relief. A few studies suggest that women who use heat therapy may experience cramp relief and use fewer pain killers than those who don’t use heat. 

Applying moderate heat to your skin can help relieve cramping by causing your abdominal muscles to relax. Heat can also increase blood circulation in the area, which may reduce swelling and pain. 

You can use a variety of tools for heat therapy. Some available options include:

  • heat wraps

  • heating pads

  • heat patches

  • hot water bags

Experts generally regard heat therapy as safe, but using heat always requires certain precautions. Too much heat or too long a duration can lead to itching or even burns.

It may be helpful to set a timer or choose one that automatically turns off after a certain amount of time.

6. Exercise

Exercise famously has numerous benefits for your overall health. Even though it may be the last thing on your mind when you have cramps, getting up and moving might help. 

You may want to avoid vigorous activity during your period, but evidence suggests that light movements, such as yoga, may be able to provide relief from cramps.

While a single bout of light exercise may be able to provide short-term relief, incorporating physical activity into your everyday life may help prevent cramps from happening in the first place.

In one study including 250 young women, those who were more physically active had fewer and less severe period pains.

Evidence suggests that long-term regular exercise may help prevent period pain, sometimes in as little as 8 weeks.

Causes of period pain

While periods can be painful, for most women, cramping is normal and nothing to be worried about. 

They can start a day or 2 before your period and typically last a few days, although some women experience them more than others.

Even though period pains are normal for many women, sometimes cramps can be a sign of other health conditions, such as endometriosis, cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or fibroids.

If your cramps suddenly get worse, you develop a fever, or if you feel the pain even when you’re not on your period, contact your doctor. This could be a sign that something else is going on.

Summary

Painful period cramps are very common and are considered a normal part of menstruation for many women. Thankfully, there are some things you can do that might help you feel more comfortable. 

A healthy diet, over-the-counter painkillers, light exercise, and heat therapy may help.

At ZOE, we know a one-size-fits-all approach to feeling good doesn’t work. The ZOE at-home test analyzes your own blood sugar and blood fat responses to foods, and provides you with a unique breakdown of the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut.

Using this information, we can give you nutrition advice tailored to your body. Take our free quiz today to get started

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Does dark chocolate relieve menstrual pain in adult women? A study among Indian population. International Journal of Physiology. (2019). https://ijop.net/index.php/ijop/article/view/48

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