Errr, no….it’s very common but it’s not normal! Many women suffer from period pain and disruptive premenstrual tension (PMT) but the pain can be debilitating affecting a woman’s ability to work and enjoy her life during that time. Period pain is abdominal pain which is experienced during or before menstruation, most typically in young women two to three years after the onset of menstruation. The pain can be in the form of spasmodic cramping, lower abdominal pain, lower back pain or a pulling sensation in the inner thighs. There are often headaches, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation (or both).
There is a massive industry on controlling period pain, whether it be pharmaceutical drugs, vitamins and minerals or even heat bags which can all be effective. But because it’s considered normal, we often think we should just grin and bear it. However, by addressing the underlying cause/s period pain is definitely treatable.
Period pain, or dysmenorrhoea can occur as a primary condition (which happens within the first year of getting your first period), or can happen at a later stage, called secondary dysmenorrhoea which is caused by as the name suggests a secondary condition.
Primary dysmenorrhoea occurs during adolescents within the first year of period onset. This is thought to be an issue with prostaglandin levels, these prostaglandins are chemicals which cause inflammation (leading to pain) and in this case are produced in response to the hormone progesterone dropping. The risk factors for increasing these prostaglandins include; genetics i.e. a family history of period pain, early onset of periods (before 12), long periods, excess alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, obesity or having a low body mass index.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea occurs due to another physical complaint which may or may not have been diagnosed by a GP or specialist. Most commonly endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Other causes can include; fibroids, ovarian cysts and tumours and malformations of the reproductive tract.
So in order to treat it effectively it’s important to get an understanding of the type of period pain, and your medical or natural health practitioner should take a detailed case history and if needed some tests should be done.
Medical treatment often includes NSAID’S (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and a variety of oral contraceptive pills. While this may be effective and convenient for some women, it is not addressing the cause and certainly not fixing the underlying issues.
As naturopaths, we can get good results just with diet and lifestyle changes but obviously this requires commitment to change habits! Herbal medicine and supplements may also form part of the treatment, these may be relaxing herbs, pain relieving and/or hormonal regulating herbs. Supporting liver and bowel function, which helps to clear and re-balance hormone levels, is also another way to treat underlying conditions or period pain and can be done through the diet and herbal or nutritional treatments.
Other self-care treatments can be used in conjunction with naturopathic treatments for best results.
-Warming the area with hot packs or hot water bottle will bring relief to some people.
-Meditation and relaxation techniques can help with pain perception.
-Massage will enhance relaxation and circulation
-Magnesium oil or aromatherapy oils such as lavender, chamomile, sage and ginger which can be poured in a bath or massaged directly on the abdomen area. Both may further aid muscle relaxation and circulation.
-Regular exercise throughout the month will increase blood flow to the pelvic area, but avoid intense exercise or inversions during the bleed days as this may aggravate pain.
Don’t suffer in relative silence, break the cycle and make some changes to enhance your overall wellness so you can stop dreading that time of the month!
Article written by Olga Bowers-Taylor
Olga is a naturopath and herbalist who specialises in reproductive health. For more information about Olga visit http://www.sharonjohnston.com.au/about-us/