One of the more annoying aspects of getting a period is menstrual cramp discomfort. It’s just so hard to focus when you’ve got stabbing, throbbing, aching pain doing its best to distract you.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen and mefenamic acid, are often the first treatments women reach for to ease menstrual cramp pain since they counter two key culprits behind this kind of discomfort: inflammation and the pain-triggering enzyme cyclooxygenase.
However, when taken over a long period of time, NSAIDs can cause stomach damage (it’s true, it happened to me) and may raise your risk of heart trouble. So, you may not want to take these drugs. Or, you might have an allergy or other reason why you can’t take them.
So, what can you do about menstrual cramp pain then?
I’ve reported on a wide variety of alternative menstrual cramp remedies already in this blog. And, today I’d like to talk about stretching exercises.
Sounds too easy to work, but a new study in the Oman Medical Journal reveals that simply performing exercises that stretch your belly and pelvis for 10 minutes three times per week can trigger a reduction in moderate to severe menstrual cramp pain that’s similar–or better–to what you’d get with 250 mg. of the NSAID mefenamic acid.
The researchers discovered this by comparing menstrual cramp pain among two groups of women–61 who followed a stretching routine and 61 who used analgesics alone–over a two-month time frame.
While the pain reduction in the exercise group didn’t kick in immediately, by the end of the two months, stretching equaled or surpassed the pain-relieving effects of taking a drug.
And, the study authors suspect that, based on previous research, continuing to do the stretches longer than two months would likely lead to further reductions in menstrual cramp pain.
So, how does stretching work it’s menstrual cramp-nixing magic? The study authors explain that regular stretching reduces stress and boosts mood, which leads to less intense uterine contractions and less pain sensitivity. Though stretching is easy, it’s also enough of a workout to release endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals that mask pain sensations. Stretching may also increase blood circulation, which in turn helps reduce the build-up of the pain-triggering chemicals prostaglandins that are behind period pain.
To try this stretching tip yourself, ask a qualified exercise trainer, yoga instructor or physical therapist for guidance on a routine that includes a proper warm-up and correct belly and pelvic stretches to get the most out of this kind of treatment and avoid injury.
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Gabrielle Lichterman is a longtime women’s health and lifestyle journalist whose articles have appeared in dozens of major magazines and newspapers around the globe including Cosmopolitan, CosmoGIRL, Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Daily News and Woman’s World. Gabrielle began developing Hormonology® and the Hormone Horoscope® in 1999 and has been sharing menstrual cycle-related research and tips through her apps, blog, book, newsletter and magazine articles ever since.
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