Authored by Revere Health

Relief for Painful Menstrual Cramps

June 20, 2018 | Family Medicine

For about half of all women, pain and cramps during the menstrual cycle is just part of life. These cramps generally begin within a year or two after a woman’s first period, and could last for several years until menopause. Here are the causes, potential treatments and situations when painful menstrual cramps may warrant additional medical attention.

Pain Cause

Pain during a menstrual cycle is caused by muscle contractions. The only part of the uterus that isn’t muscle is the endometrium, or the inner lining—during the menstrual cycle, the endometrium grows a new tissue layer that is rich in blood vessels and nutrients as part of the body’s natural preparation for embryo implantation (the first stage of a pregnancy). 

After that process if the body realizes it is not pregnant, it releases prostaglandins—chemicals that contract the uterus and push out unused blood. This causes menstrual cramps, and the more prostaglandins your body sends out, the more pain you’ll have.

Treatment Methods

There are several treatment methods available to help reduce pain related to menstrual cramps:

  • Pain medication: in some cases, basic over-the-counter pain relievers, taken before or during the menstrual cycle, can control cramp pains.
  • NSAIDs: short for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs go straight to the root of menstrual pains by stopping production of prostaglandins. You can begin taking these a day or two in advance of your period for best results. Check warning labels and discuss this with your doctor before using, particularly if you have stomach ulcers.
  • Birth control: birth control methods contain hormones that can limit menstrual cramps sometimes by as much as 90 percent. Consult your physician about whether this is a good option for you.
  • Heat therapy: heating pads, bath soaks, hot water bottles, heat patches and similar treatments can all be effective.
  • Nerve stimulator: a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator) unit is a device you wear that can limit pain. Speak to your doctor before using a TENS unit to ensure you use it safely.
  • Exercise and massage: both massage and exercise can help reduce pain and cramping. In addition, these two things can also reduce your stress levels, which may also help with cramps.
  • Diet: eating plenty of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and lean protein, increasing your water intake, and limiting things like alcohol, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and salty foods can help reduce symptoms.
  • Rest: getting plenty of sleep during your period can help your body deal with menstrual cramps.
  • Dietary supplements: some research indicates that certain supplements, including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1, vitamin B-6 and magnesium, may help limit cramping symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Menstrual cramping or heavy bleeding that begins when you are older (over 25) or gets worse over time
  • Pain that’s gone for several years, but then returns
  • Menstrual cramps that limit your ability to participate in normal daily activities
  • Pain and menstrual cramps when you are not on your period
  • Pain associated with sexual intercourse
  • Cramping that is not controlled with OTC or other pain medications

You can always talk to your doctor for further recommendations on treating menstrual cramps.


I practice the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. I also perform colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries we do, my practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although I enjoy all aspects of family medicine.



“What Can I Do About My Period Cramps?” WebMD.

“Menstrual cramps.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Home Remedies to Relieve Menstrual Pain.” Healthline.

“Herbal and dietary therapies for primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.