No matter how many periods we’ve endured and will endure in our lifetime, the side effects of menstruating will never be a walk in the park. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a whopping 85 percent of women experience at least one premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptom every month. Menstrual cramps are among some of the most common PMS miseries we go through — along with fatigue, irritability, and swollen, tender breasts.
There are many different ways to treat PMS, and one of the first things we reach for is basic painkillers. HelloGiggles spoke with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., gynecologist in New York and author of The Complete A To Z For Your V: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina, who says it’s perfectly normal to get yourself some Advil or Midol when your period is around the corner. “I usually tell my patients not to wait until they’re miserable to take medication,” she says.
Pre-medicating isn’t the only thing you can do to take care of yourself when you’re PMSing, though. There are a lot of natural remedies that can either serve as the perfect supplement to ibuprofen or just function as your main PMS treatment. Dr. Dweck walks us through her top recommendations.
Here are seven little natural ways you can ease your menstrual cramps, because you need all the help you can get.
1. Get out and do some sort of exercise.
Dr. Dweck’s number one suggestion to manage PMS is to exercise. “[Exercise] is known to help with menstrual cramps,” she says. It boosts the level of endorphins in your body, which gives you a natural high, and stimulates circulation everywhere, including and especially your lower abdomen. It also just puts you in a better mood in general!
Of course, Dr. Dweck doesn’t mean you should run to the gym as soon as your cramps kick in (although, if that’s what you want to do, you do you!). She recommends keeping up a regular exercise schedule during the rest of the month so that working out when you’re PMSing will just happen naturally.
2. Apply heat to your abdomen.
Using a heating pad or hot water bottle while you’re lounging around on the couch could significantly ease your menstrual cramps. “It’s soothing, it brings blood flow to the surface of your skin and also to your muscles,” Dr. Dweck tells HG. Similarly, she suggests you take a warm bath or a hot shower where you can concentrate the warm water on your lower pelvis.
3. Go see an acupuncturist.
The ancient Eastern practice of acupuncture is starting to become more and more popular in the U.S. People are finding that the needling helps them with all sorts of chronic pain. A study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that 77.8 percent of the women who participated in this study experienced a decrease of PMS symptoms, including menstrual cramps, from regular acupuncture treatment, while only 5.9 percent of the placebo group said the same.
When we asked Dr. Dweck about using acupuncture to relieve cramps, she said, “I don’t see why not. We use acupuncture to help with other types of chronic pains.” Give this complementary treatment a shot and see if it helps you. However, Dr. Dweck says not everyone is responsive to the same thing, so don’t expect fantastic results just because your friend raved about it.
4. Get a massage with essential oils.
The purpose of a massage is to relax your body, so it’s not crazy to think that a massage can also relax your lower abdomen and relieve the pain from menstrual cramps. Get a gentle massage from a masseuse you trust and ask them to use your favorite soothing essential oils, like lavender or mint. If you can, schedule a session in the latter part of the day so you can go straight home and climb into bed when you’re done being pampered.
5. Masturbate or have sex (yes, really!).
“Some people claim that orgasm is helpful for menstrual cramps, so go for it [if you want],” Dr. Dweck says. Orgasm releases oxytocin, dopamine, and other happy endorphins into your system, and these super-strong hormones can do exactly what painkillers do — reduce your menstrual cramps. Whether you’re flying solo or having fun with a partner, having a few orgasms can make your period much easier to endure.
6. Use a period tracker to anticipate when your period is coming.
There are many different free period tracker apps available today, and Dr. Dweck highly recommends you download one on your phone. “Use a period tracker so you can anticipate when your pain is coming, because nothing hurts more than unexpected pain,” she tells us. If you know when your period is coming you can take the necessary precautions, like exercise more often or schedule an acupuncture appointment. When you’re well prepared for PMS it won’t affect you as harshly as it might if it hit you cold.
7. Do a mindfulness or meditation practice.
It may not be the first thing that crosses your mind when you think of period pain remedies, but incorporating a meditation practice into your daily life can help you manage all kinds of physical ailments, including the ones that come from PMS. Being fully present allows you to check into your body and listen to what your true needs are, and the simple act of sitting and breathing will relax your entire body. A regular mindfulness practice can even balance your hormones in the long run, which can minimize your PMS symptoms.
Dr. Dweck agrees that meditation is worth your time. “Any sort of mindfulness practice or relaxation technique certainly gives people better coping mechanisms to deal with pain of all sorts,” she says. You might as well give it a shot and see how it works for you. If you don’t know where to start, download an app like YogaGlo, which has thousands of meditation classes that range from 5 to 60 minutes, many of which are suitable for beginners.