Most women experience some form of menstrual cramping at one time or another, whether in the abdomen or lower back. Neither are pleasant symptoms, and for some women they can be debilitating. For most of us, these symptoms are typical, and a sampling of home remedies can help us get by. For others, they can be a sign of something more serious happening in the body and should be addressed by a health care provider.
Prostaglandins are the hormone-like chemicals in our bodies that we have to thank for painful menstruation. These chemicals tell the uterus to contract, which in turn causes pain. However, if they did not do their job, our uteruses would have a harder time ridding themselves of the lining built up over the past month. So really, we shouldn't be too hard on them.
Before I had children, back pain was, for me, the main culprit of dysmenorrhea (aka- painful periods). At some point in my life, a health care provider suggested that I had a tilted uterus. Hmm. I'm not sure how valid that assessment was, but I did find it a humorous tidbit to wiggle into some conversations. I was, unfortunately, unprepared for how painful-back-pain-during-menstruation carried over into horrendous back labor with my first child. If I had thought menstrual back pain was difficult to deal with, I soon learned that back labor was like trying to wrangle a rabid lion high on caffeine with only a plastic spork and spool of thread. Thankfully, my situation was typical. According to an article released by the Mayo Clinic, (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938) if menstrual cramps are merely just that, cramps, and are not caused by a more sinister issue, they tend to lessen with age and childbirth.
There are some popular home remedies to relieve the pain of these cramps. Heat is always an excellent comfort to start with, whether it be a hot bath, shower, or heating pad. The heat helps the uterine muscles relax. Light exercises like yoga, pilates, or walking can help soothe your body and your mind. Back massages can also help ease the ache. Having a friend or boyfriend press their hands onto my kidneys while I laid on my belly was sometimes the only way to get relief. It offered me a pain-free moment, however brief before they removed their hands, and the ache came surging back. Now that I am remembering those moments, the few hours of excruciating back labor was worth not ever having to feel that monthly again. Acupuncture has been known to help women with painful symptoms of menstruation. And of course, like most PMS and menstrual symptoms, getting enough sleep, and avoiding alcohol, sugar, tobacco, and caffeine can help lessen any uncomfortable symptoms. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can also be a great friend during this time.
There are some things to be aware of, however. Back pain or abdominal cramping may be a sign of a more serious, underlying issue. According to the same Mayo Clinic article, other possible causes of cramping or pain are endometriosis (lining of the uterus becomes implanted outside the uterus), uterine fibroids (noncancerous growths in the wall of the universe – quite painful actually as I can attest), adenomyosis (lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease (an infection caused by sexually transmitted bacteria), or cervical stenosis (opening of the cervix is small enough to impede the flow of blood, causing a painful build-up of pressure in the uterus). If you have doubts that the source of your pain is more than pesky prostaglandins, don't be afraid to look deeper. If the pain increases or prohibits you from functioning in daily life, consult an appropriate health care provider.
Once you are sure the cramps and aches are simply the result of your body doing what it is made to do, then grab a heating pad and the willing hands of a friend. You'll find relief, if even for just a moment.