• By Dana Sparks

Home Remedies: Managing menstrual cramps

November 14, 2018

a woman holding a hot water bottle, for heat, on her stomach because of pain, menstrual cramps

Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women have menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual periods.

For some women, the discomfort is merely annoying. For others, menstrual cramps can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month.

Conditions such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids can cause menstrual cramps. Treating the cause is key to reducing the pain. Menstrual cramps that aren't caused by another condition tend to lessen with age and often improve after giving birth.

Things you may want to try at home include:

  • Exercise.
    Studies have found that physical activity may ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
  • Heat.
    Soaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad, hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen may ease menstrual cramps. Applying heat may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain medication for relieving menstrual cramps.
  • Dietary supplements.
    A number of studies have indicated that vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
    These substances can make menstrual cramps worse.
  • Reducing stress.
    Psychological stress may increase your risk of menstrual cramps and their severity.

Alternative medicine

Most alternative therapies haven't been well-studied for treating menstrual cramps and need further study before experts can clearly recommend one treatment or another. However, some alternative treatments may help with menstrual cramps, including:

  • Acupuncture.
    Acupuncture involves inserting extremely thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. Some studies have found that acupuncture helps relieve menstrual cramps.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
    A TENS device connects to the skin using adhesive patches with electrodes in them. The electrodes deliver a varying level of electric current to stimulate nerves.TENS may work by raising the threshold for pain signals and stimulating the release of endorphins, your body's natural painkillers. In studies, TENS was more effective than a placebo in relieving menstrual cramp pain.
  • Herbal medicine.
    Some herbal products, such as pycnogenol, fennel or combination products, may provide some relief from menstrual cramps.
  • Acupressure.
    Like acupuncture, acupressure also involves stimulating certain points on the body. In acupressure, this is done with gentle pressure on the skin instead of needles. Although research on acupressure and menstrual cramps is limited, it appears that acupressure may be more effective than a placebo in easing menstrual cramps.

This article is written by Mayo Clinic staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.

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