How to beat cramps naturally

How to beat cramps naturally

Raise your hand if you’re popping pain meds basically every day of your period. Yeah, same.

Wish you could cut your Advil habit—at least in half? I got your back: There are actually tons of natural cures for cramps that can ease your intense aches (and save you some cash at the drugstore), sans chemicals.

Try these tactics next time the red tide rolls in.

1. Take a hot bath or shower.

Clearly, period pain is reason enough to draw yourself a steamy, sudsy bath or take a window-fogging long shower—but it turns out, that heat can be pretty therapeutic for your body, too.

“Heat brings blood flow to your pelvic area, and that helps relax the muscles causing cramps in the first place,” explains Alyssa Dweck, M.D., ob-gyn in Westchester, New York and coauthor of V Is for Vagina.

2. Make sure to stay hydrated.

It sounds counterintuitive, but drinking more water can actually help lessen bloating by keeping your digestive system, uh, running smoothly. Get even more water in your diet by adding in water-rich fruits and vegetables like cucumber and watermelon.

You can also go a step further and sip on warm or hot water, which can actually help lessen period cramps from the inside—heated beverages have a relaxing effect on muscles, says Dweck.

3. Stick on a heat wrap.

How to beat cramps naturally

No, you probably can’t stay in the bathtub all day, though it’s definitely tempting.

Instead, Dweck suggests using an adhesive heat pad (like these ThermaCare Heatwraps, specifically for menstrual pain) that fit under your tights or jeans to provide constant uterine muscle-soothing relief for up to eight hours. It’s a brilliant update from those old electric heating pads (or—cringe—hot water bottles) you probably relied on in high school.

4. Break a sweat.

A decent sweat session cranks up production of mood-boosting endorphins, which can actually act as a natural pain reliever, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine.

Even better: Exercise can also help prevent period cramps (or at least lessen them when they come along), says Dweck. “Consider ramping up your workouts the week before your period is supposed to start,” she says, for maximum benefits.

5. Have an orgasm.

Seriously, though. “An orgasm really does relieve cramps for some women,” says Dweck.

How to beat cramps naturally

It’s not exactly clear how it works, but why not find out if you’re in this lucky club by grabbing your guy (this period-sex primer explains how to get it on without ruining your sheets) or your vibrator for a solo session.

6. Treat yourself to happy hour.

Having a glass of wine (or alcoholic drink of your choice) can help relax your body’s smooth muscles, including those of the uterus. This can ease aches, says Minkin. “In the old days, we used to use intravenous alcohol for pre-labor contractions,” she says.

Something to keep in mind, though: If you’re taking medications—for your period cramps or otherwise—make sure it’s safe to drink alcohol on them before imbibing.

7. Sip ginger or cinnamon tea.

How to beat cramps naturally

Consuming any warm liquid can reduce cramp agony a little bit, but the secret here is the spice, says Dweck. Ginger has a long history as a natural pain-fighter, and cinnamon is considered an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce the uterine spasms that cause cramps.

Dweck also suggests trying peppermint or chamomile flavors, as they could help relieve pain, too; so if cinnamon or ginger isn’t your thing, give those teas a try.

8. Take a self-care day.

Booking a massage—complete with relaxing essential oils, like lavender—or an acupuncture appointment can help ease aches all over, so why not try it when you’re cramping? Dweck said it may provide a little more comfort. Plus, you’ll likely leave feeling zen enough not to worry about any of your problems, including pain.

9. Stick to a healthy diet.

In general, following a low-carb and low-sugar diet, along with having more fiber before and during your period can help stop discomfort that comes from this time of month, says Dweck.

How to beat cramps naturally

Period poops are a real thing, so to keep things moving steadily (but not too fast), try to resist grabbing cookies or tons of chocolate. “All the things we crave [at this time of month], we probably shouldn’t have,” she says.

10. Unwind with a little yoga.

According to a 2017 scientific review published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, keeping up with a regular yoga practice can help with symptoms associated with menstruation.

The analysis included 15 studies of different types of yoga, from asana to pranayama and other relaxation and meditation techniques, and their affects on menstrual pain. All forms of the soothing workout included in the review led to lower pain scores.

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Meredith Bull, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Los Angeles, California.

Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, typically feel like a dull pain in the lower abdomen before or during menstrual periods. The pain sometimes radiates to the low back or thigh area. Other symptoms may include nausea, loose stools, sweating, and dizziness.

There are two types of menstrual cramps: primary and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea, which usually starts within several years after your first menstrual period, involves no physical abnormality.  

Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which are produced naturally in the body, are thought to cause these menstrual cramps and be responsible for the pain and inflammation. Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, has an underlying physical cause, such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, or uterine polyps.

How to beat cramps naturally

Natural Remedies for Menstrual Cramps

If you are experiencing symptoms of menstrual cramps, it's important to see your healthcare provider to be properly diagnosed. Although certain natural remedies show some promise, there hasn't been enough research at this point to conclude that they are effective.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. They are also available in fish oil capsules, which may be the preferable form because many brands filter out any pollutants in fish, such as mercury and PCBs.

At least eight studies involving a total of 1,097 women have investigated the relationship between diet and menstrual cramps and have found that fish oil intake seemed to have a positive effect on menstrual cramps.   Animal studies suggest that the two compounds in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may decrease prostaglandin levels.

In one small study, 21 young women took fish oil (containing 1080 milligrams eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 720 milligrams docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and 1.5 milligrams vitamin E) daily for two months followed by a placebo pill for two months.  

Another 21 young women took the placebo for two months followed by fish oil for two months. The results suggested that the women experienced significantly less menstrual cramps when they were taking the fish oil.

Fish oil capsules are sold in drug stores, health food stores, and online. Look for the active ingredients EPA and DHA on the label. Fish oil capsules may interact with blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin. Side effects may include indigestion and bleeding. To reduce fishy aftertaste, it should be taken just before meals.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It is also available as nutritional supplements. Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels and is needed for normal muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, immune function, blood pressure, and bone health.

In 2001, researchers with the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed three small studies that compared magnesium and a placebo for dysmenorrhea.   Overall, they found that magnesium was more effective than placebo for pain relief and the need for additional medication was less with magnesium use. In the studies, there was no significant difference in the number of side effects or adverse effects between the magnesium and the placebo.

High doses of magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and confusion. It can interact with certain medications, such as those for osteoporosis, high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers), as well as some antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and diuretics.

Acupressure

Acupressure is a traditional healing practice that is based on the same principles as acupuncture. Instead of applying needles to acupuncture points, pressure is applied. A point that is often recommended by acupuncturists for menstrual cramps is called Spleen 6.

Although there are only preliminary studies on acupressure for menstrual cramps, it is a simple home remedy that is often recommended by alternative healthcare providers.
To find the point, acupuncturists suggest feeling the bony point of the inner ankle.

From that point, draw an imaginary line up the lower calf from the inner ankle. The point is approximately four finger widths from the inner ankle. It isn't on the shin bone, but just beside it towards the back of the calf.

With your thumb or middle finger at a 90-degree angle to the skin, apply gradually increasing pressure. Hold for three minutes. The pressure should not be painful or uncomfortable. Acupressure to the Spleen 6 point should not be done if you are pregnant. It should also not be done over broken or infected skin.

Other Natural Remedies for Menstrual Cramps

  • Low-fat diet
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B1
  • Heat
  • Fennel
  • Massage
  • Calcium
  • Chiropractic
  • Exercise

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend any natural remedy as a treatment for menstrual cramps. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also keep in mind that the safety of alternative medicine in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

If you're considering the use of any form of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Try ice-packs, turmeric and alum paste, salt or drumstick leaves to combat muscle cramps naturally.

Written by Bhavyajyoti Chilukoti | Updated : June 13, 2015 1:48 PM IST

Muscle cramps are common during winters and most people get painful cramps during nights. Although they may last just for a few seconds, it can be quite frustrating to deal with cramps every time. But before you grab those painkillers (medications and sprays), try some easy and effective natural remedies get relief. Apart from being easily available in your home, these natural remedies for muscle cramps are quick in action and comparatively safe.

Ice-pack: You may also undo a muscle cramp with ice as it acts an effective pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory agent. All you need to do is massage the area with ice for no more than 10 minutes or until the area is bright red, which indicates that blood cells have returned to heat the cramped muscle.Read more about health benefits of ice.

Turmeric and alum: Turmeric is one of the potentantiseptic compounds which is widely used as a pain reliever, while alum is well-known for its soothing and blood thinning property. When the two are combined, they provide effective result against muscle cramp. Apply a thick past of turmeric and alum over the affected area. Do not massage the area and leave it to dry. Doing this at least twice a day for two days aid in reducing pain and swelling due to muscle cramps. Here s how to get instant relief from muscle cramps with turmeric and alum.

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Warm compress: Another age-old remedy to combat muscle pain caused due to crampsis to try warm compress. This is because, heat improves superficial blood circulation and makes muscles more flexible, so some people find that heat is more soothing for muscle cramps than ice. Applying a heating pad on the affected area for not more than 10 minutes or even a warm shower or bath, might do the trick for you.

Wintergreen oil: Wintergreen oil (which is available in the market) contains a compound known as methyl salicylate, which acts as a powerful pain reliever along with stimulating blood flow. To reap its pain relieving properties, mix two teaspoon of wintergreen oil to eight teaspoons of vegetable oil (any oil will do) and massage the affected area. Do this several times a day to attain quick relief. Here are 6 tips to beat muscle cramps.

Drumstick leaves: Drumstick leaves significantly reduce pain and cramping due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Apart from improving the flow of blood, drumstick renders a wide range of health benefits. Take a few drumstick leaves, wash and crush them to extract their juice. Now, massage the area with this juice. Alternatively you can slightly warm drumstick leaves, put them in a muslin cloth and tie this cloth around the area to relieve pain.

Salt: Easily available in any household, common salt is an amazing home remedy to get rid of muscle cramps. As lack of sodium in the body triggers muscle cramping, intake of fluids containing salt might do the trick. All you need to do is add 2-3 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and lemon juice to a litre of water and drink this solution at intervals to get rid of cramps. You can also apply salt pack (heat a fistful of salt over a pan, put it in a cloth) over the affected for relief.

Stretching: Stretching is one of the most effective home remedy to beat muscle cramps of various parts of the body namely legs, arms, thighs, calf and palm. Do some stretching exercises for at least 5 to 10 minutes (as warm-up and cool-down periods) to combat pain. Read in detail about how to get rid of those muscle cramps for good!

Image Source: Getty Images

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Muscle cramps, often associated with strenuous exercise, can sometimes be partially caused by a poor diet. Regularly incorporating certain foods into your diet can potentially help prevent cramping, or at least make it a less frequent issue. 

Potassium is the main mineral known for cramp prevention. It's an essential mineral that can aid communication between muscles and nerves. Although potassium is often associated with bananas, those sweet fruits actually aren't a very high source, providing just nine percent of your daily recommended intake. Instead, reach for one of the five foods and drinks listed below to help out with muscle cramps. 

How to beat cramps naturally

Struggling to cook healthy? We'll help you prep.

Sweet Potatoes

One medium cooked sweet potato has roughly 542 mg (12 percent of your Daily Value) of potassium. Add in their high levels of vitamin A and you've got a winner all around. Try them baked, roasted, or mashed. 

Water

Dehydration can sometimes be the cause of muscle cramps. Making sure to stay fully hydrated can contribute to keeping cramps at bay. If water seems boring to you, try pumping up the taste by creating one of our Infused Water Recipes. Or if you forget to keep hydrated, try one of our 9 Easy Ways to Drink More Water. 

Melon

Enjoy two slices of watermelon and you'll be eating 640 mg (14 percent of your Daily Value) of potassium. If you're not interested in eating it alone, try it in our Hot-Sweet Grilled Watermelon, Watermelon-Tomato Salad, or a plethora of other recipes. 

Although the exact reason that pickle juice helps with cramps is still unknown (it's speculated it might be something to do with the vinegar it contains), a 2013 study suggests that it can reduce the amount of time a cramp lasts. We recommend taking it as a small shot (if you're sensitive to sodium, check with your doctor first) and saving the rest to use as a marinade. 

Beans

Different varieties have different levels, but overall beans are a good source of potassium. One cup of kidney beans contains 717 mg (15 percent of your Daily Value) of potassium, while a cup of black beans contains a whopping 801 mg (17 percent of your Daily Value). Use beans in chili, soups, dips, and more.