Period cramps suck. It’s unjust, it’s annoying and every month, you’re left wondering: is this really the best they could come up with? Women are destined to accept the fact that every month, we’re left feeling like a bloated whale, dealing with pain that at best, can be uncomfortable muscle ache, and at worst feels like your uterus is forcing its way out of your belly like the “birth” scene in Alien.
Understanding the cause of the period cramps can help because it helps us get to the root cause. Bad period cramps happen to 80% of women, and for at least 5 - 10% of us, the pain is so severe it significantly disrupts our life (1). As such a prevalent issue for so many of us, it’s our responsibility to understand what causes period pain.
What causes period cramps?
Let's start with the uterus. The pear-shaped organ where babies grow, located in the lower belly. And the uterus is made up of muscle tissue - the same as our biceps, triceps or brain for that matter. Muscles contract when they receive messages from the nervous system.
What are uterus contractions?
Uterus contractions are the activation of tension within the muscle fibres that can happen without changes in the muscle length or size. Our uterus contracts throughout our cycle, but is particularly strong during menstruation as the uterus works hard to shed the uterus wall lining, which causes the bleeding. This muscle tension is what we commonly refer to as menstrual cramps or period cramps.
What causes period contractions?
During the month, hormones (prostaglandins) help to thicken our uterus lining, or uterus wall because the body is preparing to have a baby. A baby needs a sturdy, quality home to grow inside of for the next 9 months, which in this case is a thick uterus wall. However, if our eggs aren’t fertalized and we don’t become pregnant, then the thickened uterus wall needs to shed to reduce back to its normal size. This process causes us to bleed.
Why do period cramps hurt?
There are two key reasons why period contractions hurt:
If this tension or period cramping is particularly strong, it can cause compression of the blood vessels in the muscle wall of the uterus, which cuts off the blood and oxygen supply to the uterus. The body then sends signals to the brain, crying out for help. Enter: Pain.
The second reason is related to the hormones that cause the contractions in the first place. Prostaglandins trigger the pain and inflammation. Higher levels of these hormone-like substances are associated with a heightened sensitivity to pain, so the uterus contractions feel more severe than usual.
If pain is severe and chronic, always see your doctor. It's not normal or necessary for severe pain and there could be more serious underlying causes that should be addressed like type 2 or secondary dysmenorrhea.
Herbs and substances that may balance hormones associated with period pain:*
Herbs and vitamins that may help reduce muscle cramping:*
- Cramp bark
- Vitamin B
Natural remedies that may help the symptoms of period pain:*
And finally rest up ladies... You deserve it and need it!
This article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose any condition or act as a replacement for a medical consultation.