Is pain coming at you from all sides at your “time of the month”? You’re not alone. In fact, over 84% of women reportedly experience menstrual pain, with 1 in 4 women being so debilitated by it that they require pharmacological intervention and have to miss work, school, or other social activities.
Dysmenorrhea is the term given for pain and discomfort experienced during a menstrual period. It typically begins at the start of the menstrual cycle and lasts for a few days; it is generally characterized by cramps (uterine contractions). “Secondary dysmenorrhea” refers to the same occurrence but as a result of an underlying health condition affecting the reproductive organs, like endometriosis.
Back Pain and Menstruation
A 2017 cross-sectional study published in the International Journal of Reproductive Medicine of girls who experienced dysmenorrhea found that back pain was a very common symptom associated with the condition, second only to abdominal pain. Additional symptoms included fatigue, weakness, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, headache, bloating, dizziness, and even vomiting.
What exactly causes the back pain during your period? Surprisingly, your hormones are typically the culprit. Your body needs to produce hormones, like prostaglandins, to cue the uterus to shed its lining through contractions. The more prostaglandins, the more painful your period can be. Heavy flows coupled with intense contractions (cramps) can strain lower back muscles and cause you to assume poor postures (like slouching or slumping) which contribute to back pain too.
Treat Period-Related Back Pain with These 5 Tips
If you experience period-related pain that radiates from your abdomen through to your back and even up to your neck, don’t miss this quick guide on easy and effective ways to treat it:
Heat therapy – applying heat to areas of cramping or strain can help ease muscle tension and dull pain and inflammation in your back and abdomen. Whether it’s with a heating pad, getting a back massage with warming oil, going to a sauna, or taking a soak in a hot tub, it’s easy and convenient to use heat therapy for relief.
Exercise regularly – even before and after your period it’s important to exercise regularly. Research shows that routine fitness both boosts blood circulation and combats stress, both of which help alleviate period cramping. While high-impact workouts might not seem like a fun idea when you are on your period, you can try a more soothing physical activity like yoga or tai chi for pain and stress relief.
Eat smart – avoid consuming foods and beverages that exacerbate your period symptoms, i.e. skip the processed foods with excess fat, sodium, and sugar that make you feel bloated and mess with your blood sugar levels and hormone balance. Make sure to drink lots of water and supplement your normal caffeine or alcohol intake with herbal teas. Vitamins and minerals like magnesium, B12, calcium, and fish oil have also been shown to help stave off menstrual pain and fight inflammation.
Medicine – over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and NSAIDs can help to both relieve inflammation, reduce pain, and counter the levels of the hormone prostaglandins in your system which triggers cramps. Some of these generic pain relievers do come with their own warnings, however, so talk to your doctor about a healthy regimen for administering these while you are menstruating.
Massage – like you need another reason to get a massage! A back massage when you are on your period can help ease muscle tension in your lower back, provide stress relief, and loosen stiff joints in your hip and pelvic area. Ask your partner for a massage, book one at a local spa, or simply get a massage pillow you can rest against while you take it easy on the couch and binge Netflix.
If chronic dysmenorrhea keeps interrupting your life and ability to go about day-to-day tasks whenever your period strikes, you may ask your doctor about hormonal birth control (especially if you are not planning on having kids soon anyways). Both oral contraceptives as well as intrauterine devices, and birth control injections and patches can help prevent ovulation, balance hormone levels, and reduce the occurrence and severity of menstrual cramps.