Updated: Feb 14
What causes them? What are the different types of period pain? How can I help myself? I hope to shed some light on the monthly pains and cramps that many women struggle with every period.
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As an osteopath with a special interest in women’s health, I often get asked if “I mean periods and stuff”. The short answer is yes but in reality there are multiple conditions and complaints that an osteopath may help under the women’s health umbrella.
I thought I would start with periods – which is a very broad topic in itself.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is unique to her. Some women are regular and some are not. Some women have short cycles lasting 2-3 days and some last 5-7 days. Some women have a light flow, some heavy and some women experience extremely heavy periods which leads to what’s known as “flooding”. Some women pass clots and others don’t. Some experience increased vaginal discharge before the start of their periods. Some experience hormonal fluctuations making them more tired, hungry and even changes their libido…
That’s just scratching the surface of the variations women experience during their cycles. On top of this, most women at some point in their lives will experience period pain and cramping – medically known as Dysmenorrhea. It is completely normal to experience cramping during a period and the degree of discomfort and pain is a unique experience to every lady.
What are Painful Periods?
Period pain is a cramping sensation that can be an intense pain or a dull ache in the
lower tummy and pelvis. It can sometimes can be felt in the lower back, groin and thighs. Not every period will be accompanied with menstrual cramps and the discomfort and pain may vary with each cycle.
The pain or discomfort may start 1 – 2 days prior to your period or when the bleeding starts.
What Causes Painful Periods?
There are two types of period pain; “Primary” and “Secondary”.
Primary Dysmenorrhea –
Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common type of period pain, it is recurrent and is caused by the natural process your body goes through during menstruation (a period).
During a period, the lining of the uterus (womb) is shed if an egg has not been fertilised. The muscular walls of the uterus contract to encourage the passing of the uterine lining (your period) which causes the blood vessels of the uterus to become compromised, therefore, blood flow is significantly reduced.
As a result of the reduced blood supply, the tissues of the uterus releases chemical pain signals to the brain. Other chemicals known as prostaglandins, which causes the uterus to contract more, are also secreted and will consequently increase the pain signals being sent to the brain. Think of it like a domino effect.
It is not clearly understood why the severity or the occurrence of period pain varies from woman to woman.
Secondary Dysmenorrhea –
Secondary dysmenorrhea is when period pain is caused by dysfunction or an underlying health condition with the female reproductive organs.
Pain caused by secondary dysmenorrhea is likely to occur earlier in the cycle and last longer.
Secondary Conditions include but are not limited to*:
· Uterine Fibroids
· Ovarian Cysts
How Can I Help Period Pain at Home?
· Hot water bottle for your tummy or lower back
· Warm bath
· Contrast bathing – this can be a bit of a hassle, but bathing your bottom half in cool water for 10 minutes and then bathing in warm water for 10 minutes and alternating this process may help relieve cramps by stimulating the blood vessels to open and close, with the aim to increase blood flow by creating a pumping effect. Some women find this very effective.
· Painkillers – Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory that you can take after food at the start of your cramps. Use ibuprofen safely as it can upset the lining of your stomach. Always read the label and do not take if you are asthmatic.
· A cup of tea – such as ginger, juniper or dandelion have natural diuretic properties that may help to reduce bloating and water retention. You can find natural teas in local health food shops and some supermarkets.
· Keep a period journal – track your pain and the length of your periods. This will help you to get to know your cycles and may help to predict when your pain may start. This is such a valuable source of information as it can build a picture over time and can help to determine whether you have primary or secondary dysmenorrhea.
· Exercise – It has been shown that women who exercise regularly experience fewer and less painful cramps. Keeping fit and active may help to relieve your symptoms as a part of a balanced healthy lifestyle.
Some women also find that their period pain decreases with age and after they have given birth.
*If you suspect you may be experiencing secondary dysmenorrhea, please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible so any necessary referrals or tests may be done to getting you closer to a diagnosis.
How Can Osteopathy Help Painful Periods?
As an osteopath, I will listen to your presentation and understand how your periods are affecting you. If I feel that a referral is necessary, I am able to write to your GP with your consent so that you may access any further testing or referral pathways as appropriate.
However, if osteopathy is suitable, I can assess your posture, focusing on the mobility of the hips, pelvis and spine. In some cases, forms of osteopathy known as cranial or functional osteopathy may help in dysmenorrhea presentations. These approaches are very gentle and focus on different parts of the body including; the head and sacrum (the small triangular bone at the base of the spine), ligaments, organs and fascia.
Ensuring that there is balance to the breathing mechanics and the pelvic floor is just one example of how osteopathy can help to achieve improved bodily function which may help to relieve your symptoms by improving drainage and increasing blood flow to and from the pelvis.
Each patient is unique and consequently there is never a “one treatment for all” approach. Following my osteopathic diagnosis, I will tailor a treatment plan to you to achieve the best outcome. I have to stress that there is no guarantee osteopathy can help cure your symptoms but many ladies have reported reduced pain and cramping following treatment and appropriate management.
If you feel that you would benefit from osteopathic treatment, or would like more information about osteopathy or myself, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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Tel: 07932 806 272
I look forward to hearing from you soon.