Unless you’re one of the lucky few women who “never gets cramps” (seriously?!), you know how much they can disrupt your daily life. Cramps can really kill your beach day, make you cancel dates, miss class time, or call in sick from work—again. (Here’s what actually causes menstrual cramps, a.k.a. primary dysmenorrhea.)
While a day in bed with your Netflix account is always welcome, it’s better without the throbbing uterus. Luckily, experts (and generations of women) have found these tried-and-true methods to ease menstrual cramp pain.
Cardio. Ugh, exercise is the least appealing activity when you’re hurting down there, but research consistently shows that it eases pain. Even better, make it a part of your daily routine: Women who exercise regularly experience less menstrual cramp pain, so don’t just wait until the pain starts to get moving.
Heat. What is it about warmth that is so soothing? Apply a hot water bottle or heating pad to your stomach or lower back—or just prepare a nice, warm bath for yourself.
Aromatherapy massage. It sounds too good to be true, but a 2017 study found that massaging with essential oils was more effective at relieving cramps than with a placebo oil. Another study specifically cited lavender, clary sage, and rose essential oils to make cramps less, well, crampy.
Acupuncture. It may help reduce menstrual cramp pain if done before the period starts, according to a 2016 study.
Meditation or yoga. Relaxation techniques may provide some cramp relief. In one study, participants who did cobra, cat, and fish poses effectively reduced both the severity and duration of cramps. (Try this 10-minute yoga routine to practice mindful breathing.)
OTC painkillers. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen—you know the ones. If you want a more long-term plan, certain birth control options can also reduce menstrual cramp pain. (Here is what you should know about IUDs and what to know about the implant for birth control.)
Rest. Sometimes, you just need to cozy up on the couch and take it easy. That’s cool, too.
Armour M, Smith CA. Treating primary dysmenorrhoea with acupuncture: A narrative review of the relationship between acupuncture ‘dose’ and menstrual pain outcomes. Acupunct Med. 2016 Dec;34(6):416-24.
Dysmenorrhea: Painful periods. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2015. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Dysmenorrhea-Painful-Periods.)
Han SH, Hur MH, Buckle J, Choi J, Lee MS. Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Jul-Aug;12(6):535-41.
Hightower M. Effects of exercise participation on menstrual pain and symptoms. Women Health. 1997;26(4):15-27. Period pain. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/periodpain.html.)
Rakhshaee Z. Effect of three yoga poses (cobra, cat and fish poses) in women with primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2011 Aug;24(4):192-6.
Sut N, Kahyaoglu-Sut H. Effect of aromatherapy massage on pain in primary dysmenorrhea: A meta-analysis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017 May;27:5-10.
What can I do about cramps and PMS? New York, NY: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/what-can-i-do-about-cramps-and-pms.)