What are Period Cramps?
Period cramps are a universal sign of solidarity among uteruses. It’s like they belong to an invite-only club and the sole way to get a membership is to put their owner in as much discomfort as humanly possible.
If you’ve ever had cramps, you understand what I’m saying. And it’s not just cramping that makes us press against our abdomens and cringe. The accompanying pain in your hips, lower back, and inner thighs, the upset stomach, and, yes, even the diarrhea, that makes us want to revoke our uteruses voting rights in favor of a month free from this reproductive pain.
While knowledge about cramps might not make yours disappear, it will give you some insight on what is going on in your body - and what you can do to treat it. Understanding the type of cramps you could be experiencing, what exactly period cramps are, and how to banish them (at least temporarily) will give you a sense of control over your rebellious reproductive organs.
Types of Cramps
There are two types of menstrual cramps that most people with periods deal with on some level. The first is primary dysmenorrhea. This is just a fancy name for common period cramps. The pain can range from mild (like little aliens kickboxing inside your uterus) to severe (think, being stabbed repeatedly in the uterus by medium sized aliens). It’s typical for this kind of cramping to start about 2 years after a woman reaches her menarche (her first period) and to ease as a woman ages. Some women even find that, after they have a baby, their period cramps stop entirely.
The second type of menstrual cramping is called secondary dysmenorrhea. This not-as-common type of cramp is associated with a disorder in the reproductive organs. The possibilities include endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, or an infection. These cramps often last longer than primary dysmenorrhea cramps and start earlier in the menstrual cycle.
The Scientific Cause of Menstrual Cramps
Of course, there’s a very specific reason why you get cramps during your period and, no, it’s not because your uterus is revolting. I know it feels like this is the case but stay with me. Throughout your menstrual cycle, your uterus contracts. When the uterine muscle contracts too strongly, it can press into the surrounding blood vessels. When this happens, part of the uterus loses blood supply (not something to worry about) and causes pain. Not pleasant, for sure, but at least now you know exactly what is causing that dreadful feeling that makes you want to curl up into the fetal position and cry.
How to Treat Cramps
Thankfully, the women who came before us have figured out several ways to ease menstrual cramps and put us out of our misery.
You can try one or all of the following in an effort to ditch the pain and carry on with your life:
- Take an over-the-counter painkiller like Advil
- Place a heating pad on your lower abdomen
- Take a warm bubble bath (while you’re at it, grab a good book and a cup of tea and make it a spa day)
- Avoid caffeine (I know, I know)
- Massage your lower back and abdomen