Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are pains in a woman’s lower abdomen and pelvis that occur when her menstrual period begins and may continue for 2-3 days. Primary dysmenorrhea has no underlying gynecologic problem that cause the pain, are as secondary dysmenorrea has organic causes that need to be addressed.
Menstrual pain can range in severity from a mild annoyance to severe cramping that can be so painful that they interfere with a woman’s regular activities for several days.
Menstrual cramps are the leading cause of absenteeisem in women younger than 30 years. 50% of women who have menstrual periods experience varying degrees of discomfort, with 15% being temporarily disabled by her symptoms.
When menstruation begins the old uterine lining breaks down, and this tissue is expelled. This process also releases compounds called prostaglandins which cause the uterine muscles to contract. Women who have high levels of prostaglandin experience more intense contractions of their uterus and more pain. Other substances known as leukotrienes, which are chemicals that play a role in the inflammatory response, are also elevated at this time and may be related to the development of menstrual cramps. The cramping sensation is also intensified when clots or pieces of bloody tissue from the lining of the uterus pass through the cervix, especially if a woman’s cervical canal is narrow.
In addition to cramps in the lower abdomen, a woman may also experience additional symptoms such as low back pain, leg pain, and pain down the legs, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, irritability, and weakness.
Many women take pain medication to help relieve symptoms; this treatment may cause other symptoms or side effects such as GI upset or bleeding. Alternative forms of pain relief may be achieved by using heat on the the pelvic area, and massaging the lower abdomen and low back. Regular physical exercise can also be helpfull in alleviating menstrual cramps, especially prior to the start of a period. Eating foods rich in calcium, supplementing with antioxidants such as vitamin E, and taking omega 3 fish oils, vitamin D and magnesium can all be beneficial in helping control pain and cramping. You should also avoid eating sugar, white bread and flower, and limiting red meat, alcohol and cigarette smoking.
Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial in reducing menstrual pain through the use of heat, soft tissue massage, acupressure, and spinal adjustment; many patients have experienced marked decrease in their menstrual pain and cramping, as well as the other associated pain symptoms.
You should always have your pain evaluated by your gynecologist to have the cause of your pain determined prier to attempting any treatment.