How to Tame Period Pain (and Avoid Ruining a Perfectly Good Month)

Sure, you can always take ibuprofen, but here are some home remedies to try when your period symptoms turn painful.

Cramping, lower-back pain, tender breasts, and headaches are just a few of the period pains women experience monthly. And well, for something that happens every 28 to 30 days, menstrual cycles can still surprise you with the number of uncomfortable period symptoms you experience. Period pain, while not fun, is common and usually can be treated—or at least lessened—with at-home remedies. However, if you experience debilitating symptoms to the point where you cannot work or enjoy life, you may have a more serious condition that requires your doctor's attention and treatment. (Don't delay setting up an appointment so you can find pain relief!)

For general period pain, consider this your 101 guide to relieving symptoms and feeling better every month.

What causes period pain?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 50 percent of women who menstruate experience period pain at least one to two days per month. Of course, the intensity varies by person, with some women experiencing manageable cramps or a slight headache, while others struggle to get out of bed.

Also known as dysmenorrhea, menstrual pain is caused in part by the release of prostaglandins. These naturally occurring chemicals in the uterine lining cause the uterus muscle and blood vessels to contract, explains Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist and the host of the Business of the V podcast. "Uterine muscular contractions occur intermittently before and during flow, and aid in the expulsion of the thickened uterine lining that forms and sheds if pregnancy does not occur," she explains. When these contractions occur, blood flow is interrupted, resulting in pain. You also may experience period pain if you have an underlying condition, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, or an infection.

In short: During this monthly occurrence, your hormones are raised, which can cause a slew of uncomfortable symptoms that pass once your period has finished.

How to relieve period pain: Hot water bottle
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How to Relieve 4 Painful Period Symptoms

Nope, you don't have to sit and suffer throughout your period aches and pains. Menstrual cycles can be more comfortable—or at least more bearable—with a few changes in your diet and daily habits. Here, experts share their most effective at-home remedies, symptom-by-symptom.

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Breast Sensitivity

During your menstrual cycle, your breasts may become more extensive and feel painful to the touch. For many, the simple act of brushing up against something or giving a tight hug can be painful.

Breast tenderness is caused by a combination of inflammation, excess estrogen, and an imbalance in the ratio of sodium to potassium in the body, explains Dana Bruck, LAc, MSTCM, the co-founder of OVA MOON.

To find relief, start by ensuring you're getting enough iodine, increasing your water intake, and loading up on potassium-rich foods. "Iodine helps promote healthy estrogen metabolism and down-regulates estrogen receptors, which is important because excess estrogen is the main culprit of breast tenderness," Bruck says. Foods rich in iodine include seaweed and seafood, while broccoli, spinach, bananas, and citrus load you with potassium.

Another helpful tip is to change up the bra you wear during your period to be more supportive and minimize mobility, Dr. Dweck recommends.

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Uterus contractions can make you feel nauseous and, in some cases, can nearly take your breath away. To the rescue is something you probably have within reach: a hot water bottle or a heating pad. As Bruck explains, heat relaxes the muscles in your body—as well as your uterus—helping to relieve cramps quickly. Another way to find relief is to load up on magnesium and ginger, which can relax internal muscles in higher doses, she adds. You can take a supplement or make ginger tea with honey to find some comfort.

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Lower-Back Pain

Many women experience lower-back pain during their menstrual cycle, and the same at-home remedies for cramping can be effective. As Bruck says, hot water bottles and topical arnica cream are great remedies for lower back pain that comes with your period. "The heat can offer immediate relaxation, and the arnica cream works topically to reduce inflammation," she continues. "Massaging this area can also bring much-needed relief."

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If you can't seem to focus and have a pounding headache during your period, it could be caused by a lack of specific vitamins in your body. Brock recommends a high dose of ginger or magnesium (found in nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, avocados, bananas, and more) can help relax tension in your head caused by inflammation. If you're feeling sensitive, try applying a cold compress over your eyes and head where there's a pain for cooling relief. "Also, make sure you are having regular bowel movements the week before menstruation because this is how excess estrogen leaves the body. Estrogen that gets stuck in the body can cause menstrual headaches and also period pain," she adds.

RELATED: 4 Pressure Points That Can Quickly Soothe a Headache

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