For many women, painful periods are the norm every month; this is known as Dysmenorrhea (literally “difficult period”). But believe it or not, pain during menstruation is not normal.
A “normal” period should last 3 – 7 days, be pain-free and bright red from start to finish – I can't think of a single friend or client who can relate to this experience. In fact, painful periods are one of the most common reasons for women missing work, and girls missing school.
There are a number of factors that can cause painful periods, namely anatomy, underlying health issues and painful past experiences.
The role of Prostaglandins
Period pain occurs when the muscular wall of the womb tightens (contracts). Mild contractions continually pass through your womb, but they're usually so mild that most women can't feel them.
During your period, the wall of the womb starts to contract more vigorously to encourage the womb lining to shed away as part of your monthly period.
When the muscular wall of the womb contracts, it compresses the blood vessels lining your womb. This temporarily cuts off the blood supply – and hence oxygen supply – to your womb. Without oxygen, the tissues in your womb release chemicals that trigger pain.
While your body is releasing these pain-triggering chemicals, it's also producing other chemicals called prostaglandins. These encourage the womb muscles to contract more, further increasing the level of pain.
It's not known exactly why some women experience more period pain than others. One study showed that women who experience regular period pain may have a build up a build-up of prostaglandins of up to 7 x more than those that don't have pain, which means they experience stronger contractions.
Uterus alignment (or a tilted uterus)
An additional factor to consider is the alignment of the uterus. If the uterus is misaligned (and 80-90% of women’s are… more about that here) the uterus needs to work harder to get rid of menstrual lining, which in turns makes the uterus contract more, creates inflammation, reduces fresh blood and oxygen and gives us cramps.
Fertility massage works by increasing circulation and correcting alignment of the uterus, which helps the uterus cleanse itself more easily, and less cramp-inducing Prostaglandins are produced.
Underlying health issues
Period pain and cramping may also be caused by underlying issues such as stress, gynaecological and digestive issues, including Endometriosis, Ovarian Cysts, fibroids, polpys, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and urinary tract infections.
Sex hormones secreted by glands in the body, also travel in our bloodstream. By improving circulation, we're also helping to address any hormonal imbalances such as fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis, which can all cause period pain.
Some women may also experience painful periods with an IUD contraceptive fitted. There's a theory that this may be the body trying to reject a "foreign object", causing cramping.
Painful past experiences & culture
For a lot of women, when we talk about our periods, we think about them as a monthly burden, with disgust, or even shame. Or perhaps your first period (‘menarche’) was traumatic, or dealt with badly by people around you.
There is a school of thought that believes these negative experiences, social and culture attitudes towards female menstruation can impact on our menstrual cycles later in life if we don’t address them.
Some women find dealing with past hurt, and working with their menstrual cycle instead of against it, listening to what it needs at each stage, nurturing instead of neglecting it, and thinking about their bodies in a positive light can completely transform their menstrual cycles. The mind-body connection is an truly and powerful thing.
How does fertility massage help painful periods?
- Firstly, fertility massage works by increasing circulation and correcting alignment of the uterus, which helps the uterus cleanse itself more easily, and less cramp-inducing chemicals need to be produced.
- When circulation to the womb and abdomen are increased, the flow of lymph, containing infection-fighting white cells, also improves -- this in turn helps our immune system to fight inflammation and infection more effectively. Even low-grade inflammation or infection, in the gut for instance, can prevent good nutrients from being absorbed into the bloodstream properly, which long term can make us deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.
- Sex hormones secreted by glands in the body, also travel in our bloodstream. By improving circulation, we're helping to address hormonal imbalances that contribute problems such as fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis, all of which can cause period pain.
- Emotionally, fertility massage can help a women connect to herself again, by learning to listen to her body and what it needs. More importantly, if we have had difficult past experiences or traumas, we may feel ashamed or hostile towards our wombs. By learning to love this part of us, and see it is not a hostile place, we can start to heal ourselves.
Other natural ways to reduce menstrual cramps:
- Regular fertility massage, and self-massage
- Adapt your diet – eat lots of fruit and veg, eliminate sugary and processed, avoid dairy and reduce red meat and egg yolk consumption to 2-3 times per week
- Aromatherapy (German Chamomile, Sweet Marjoram, Sweet Fennel)
- Nutritional supplements such as Omega 6 fatty acid, Magnesium and Vitamin A (see a qualified naturopath)
- Herbal support such as cramp bark, Black Cohosh and Wild Yam (see a qualified Herbalist)
- Gentle yoga
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