Every 28 days or so, Mother Nature doles out a brutal series of swift kicks to our reproductive organs, also known as menstrual cramps. And that shit sucks. Period. (Hehe, see what I did there?)
The levels of pain we experience can vary widely, but I think it’s safe to say that all bearers of a uterus have, at one point or another, wanted to reach up in there and yank it out, then throw it as far as we can, then drive over it for good measure. At best, menstrual cramps are an achy annoyance that really have no place fucking up our day; at worst, they’re debilitating, making it impossible to properly function. I mean, they’re as painful as a heart attack.
Add in the inevitable ignorant guffaws from people (cough, men, cough) about how it “must be that time of the month” and it’s a recipe for punching someone in the chode, or at least fantasizing wildly about it while we try to ignore the searing pain in our abdomens.
So, in an effort to compile a list of tried-and-true remedies for period cramps, we’ve trekked to the furthest reaches of the jungle and scaled the highest peaks and most dangerous cliffs (or maybe just did some research and polled some people – potato, po-tah-to). We asked actual owners of an actual uterus to tell us what works for them, and here are some of the things they came up with:
1. Herbal tea
There are herbal teas – specifically, red raspberry leaf and chamomile – that have been proven to help alleviate cramps. Red raspberry leaf has a well-documented history of providing reproductive support, and chamomile has a natural anti-inflammatory effect (think ibuprofen, but from nature). To take any guesswork out of what kind you need or how often to drink it, just Google “PMS tea” and all sorts of pre-packaged options will come up. You might feel like you’ve stepped into that Kermit the Frog tea-sipping meme, but that’s none of my business.
2. Essential oils
Okay, so I know it’s mildly annoying when that one friend you haven’t seen since high school slides into your DMs asking if you wanna “reap the benefits of essential oils.” But! Turns out this is actually a thing that can provide a little relief, even if you’re not selling the shit. A 2012 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Research concluded that an essential oil blend (lavender, clary sage, and marjoram in a 2-1-1 ratio diluted to 3% concentration in an unscented cream base, if you wanna get science-y about it) did, in fact, help with cramps versus a placebo.
3. Birth control
This was a popular method among the peeps we polled: if you’re not looking to get pregnant, cramp relief may be a visit to your gyno away. Basically, cramps are caused by chemicals called prostaglandins, which cause the uterus to contract in order to squeeze that crap out every month. The thicker your uterine lining, the more prostaglandins – and therefore, the more cramping – you get to deal with. But hormonal birth control will thin the uterine lining, meaning lighter and less painful periods, and some will stop periods altogether (the Mirena IUD seemed to be the overall winner of the category here, though it definitely depends on the person, so talk to your doc).
I know, it sounds like a pharmaceutical commercial, but here’s the deal. We all know that Viagra is a one-way ticket to Bonertown for dudes, but for those of us trying to soothe an angry uterus, it might also provide some relief. As it turns out, its main ingredient (sildenafil citrate) works to dilate blood vessels around the uterus. But the trick, apparently, is to administer it vaginally – not wash it down with a couple swallows of wine and wait for the magic to happen.
Hey! Speaking of magic…Did you know that an orgasm can help your uterus CTFD? The rush of endorphins, combined with increased blood flow to the area, will keep cramps at bay for a bit. I mean, as if we needed an excuse to go for the Big O. Pssshh.
6. Kinesiology tape
If you’ve noticed an athlete wearing tape, it’s not some weird fad – it’s kinesiology tape, and it’s purported to help with stabilization and pain relief in muscles and joints. However, some people also swear by it to help period cramps. It’s even backed up by a 2013 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, which found that “Kinesio taping had significant effects on menstrual pain.” You can’t just go putting tape on your bod all willy-nilly though; you have to put it in a specific place, so make sure to watch a tutorial before you go taping yourself up. Otherwise you might just find yourself getting an unexpected wax.
7. Marijuana suppositories
The “devil’s lettuce” may have gotten a bad rap, but it’s slowly being recognized as the pain-relief powerhouse it can be for all kinds of medical issues – including cramps. There are actually tons of marijuana-based products for period pain (tinctures, creams, bath salts, even chocolate products), but the one that seems to have the most effectiveness is the vaginal suppository. You’re not stuffing a bunch of leaves up your hoo-ha though (brings whole new meaning to the term “lady garden,” huh?); it’s just a little pill-shaped thing, smaller than a tampon, that you slide up in there for maximum pharmaceutical-free cramp relief.
If you’re not opposed to using actual medicine, an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (aka, Advil or Motrin or their generic store-brand equivalents if you’re cheap like me), is the way to go. Other pain relievers like Tylenol will help with pain, but they don’t decrease the uterine contractions; ibuprofen does both (so does naproxen, if you’d rather try Aleve). Combine it with one of these other methods and you might feel halfway human again.
I KNOW. When you feel like crap on a cracker, the last thing you want to do is bounce around, but I promise it works. First and foremost, it’ll distract you from your misery. But even more importantly, exercise encourages more blood flow to your distressed uterus and releases endorphins to counteract those pesky prostaglandins.
Sometimes there’s just no better remedy for cramps than a long soak in the tub or sacking out on the sofa with a heating pad/hot water bottle draped across your pelvis. Heat relaxes the area, reduces the constriction of blood vessels, and improves blood flow. If lying on the couch with a heating pad isn’t feasible – damn you, life! – you can get those self-heating adhesive patches at the drugstore. It will relax the contracting muscles too, although there’s just something to be said for lazing around while you heat things up.
There were also a few other, uh, less-reliable remedies mentioned, like shots of Jack Daniels and dancing naked under a full moon. I mean, necessity is the mother of invention, right? Who knows what desperation will drive us to try? But for now, stick with something on this list — proven go-to remedies that make “that time of the month” seem less like a leisurely stroll through hell.