uterus4There’s a popular saying attributed to scientist Albert Einstein that goes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I bring this up because if you’ve been trying to cope with menstrual cramp pain the same way month after month–for instance, by trying to distract yourself or ignoring it–but it still gets you down, or if you’ve been using the same menstrual cramp remedy over and over–such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen–and are getting minimal to no relief, then using the same coping strategy and pain treatment again the next month probably won’t work any better.

And, this is key to accept because according to a new study in the journal Pain Practice, the willingness to try a new way to deal with period pain could not only help you achieve better pain relief, it can also lift depression you experience during menstruation.

This makes sense since, as the study author explains, pain causes stress, which drags down your mood. On the other hand, being open to trying new pain management strategies until you find one that works for you–a trait called “coping flexibility”–gives you more options to relieve that pain, which then nixes stress and makes you feel more in control of what’s happening to your body.

Lucky for you, there are many menstrual cramp pain management treatments to try. And, if one doesn’t work, keep experimenting until you find the right treatment–or combination of treatments–that works for you. Here are several study-proven remedies that might ease your period pain and lift your menstrual mood:

1. Ginger

This common kitchen spice has been proven time and again in studies (such as this studythis study, this study, this study, this study and this study) to ease the pain of menstrual cramps.

The way ginger works its cramp-relieving magic is by reducing the body’s production of pain- and inflammation-triggering prostaglandins. Some research suggests it even works as well as over-the-counter painkillers–but, without the potentially dangerous side effects.

So, how much should you take? In some of the studies, women were given 250 mg. to 500 mg. of powdered ginger extract every six hours on the two days leading up to menstruation and during the first three days of menstruation.

Personally, I prefer to start with the lowest possible dose when taking any new herb or supplement to see how my body reacts to it.

You can find ginger supplements in health food stores and Amazon.com.

For milder pain, you can try sipping ginger tea, nibbling crystallized ginger candy or adding fresh grated ginger to soups, stews and other dishes. I eat this crystallized ginger candy when I’ve got cramps and other aches–mainly because it’s really delicious and easy for me to digest. It’s also my go-to when I’ve got nausea since small doses of ginger help ease an unsettled stomach.

Note: Don’t take ginger if you have a bleeding disorder since it can affect blood clotting or if you have diabetes since it can lower blood sugar. As with any new supplement or herb, you should always check for interactions it may have with medications or other supplements or herbs you currently take and if it can affect a condition you have by consulting with your health care provider or pharmacist. You can find out more about ginger at WebMD.

2. Self-massage with fragrant massage oil

When menstrual pain flares, try rubbing a massage oil that contains essential oils (such as rosemary, clove, rose or cinammon) on your pelvic area for about 10 minutes. Sounds too easy to work, but numerous studies (including this one, this one, this one and this one) prove that the gentle stroking and fragrant essential oils reduce inflammation that contributes to period pain, easing your discomfort.

You can find premixed aromatherapy massage oil at your local health foods stores or on Amazon.com. Or you can create your own by using a carrier oil, such as almond or jojoba oil, with essential oils. (Tip: Never use essential oils directly on the skin that haven’t been diluted in a carrier oil.) Here’s a recipe used in one of the studies: Mix 1.5 drops of cinnamon, 1.5 drops of clove, 1 drop of rose and 1 drop of lavender into 95 drops of sweet almond oil.

3. A TENS Unit

One of the newest ways to quash menstrual cramp pain is by using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit. This small device that delivers a painless electrical current (which feels like mild tingling and kneading) through the skin has been shown in a bunch of studies (such as this one, this one and this one) to ease the pain of menstrual cramps.

TENS therapy is believed to work by stimulating nerves in a way that send signals to the brain that “scramble” pain perception, temporarily easing discomfort. Before my back surgery, I used a TENS unit almost daily to relieve my extreme back pain.

You can find TENS units at drugstores, Target and Amazon.com.

I’m not a big fan of ibuprofen as the first line of defense for menstrual cramps due to the risk of stomach damage and bleeding that can occur from prolonged or overuse. I, myself, can no longer take ibuprofen after developing stomach damage from using it to alleviate migraine pain over the years.

However, if you’re comfortable with ibuprofen, but you’re not getting the relief you want, don’t take more–just take it on different days in your cycle to make it work more effectively. Specifically, take one to three ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) spaced apart on the three days leading up to your period (for instance, Day 26, Day 27 and Day 28 in a 28-day cycle).

Studies show taking ibuprofen on the days before your period blocks the buildup of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like chemicals behind menstrual cramp discomfort. No prostaglandins=less period pain or even no period pain.

All doctors actually know this, but with the short time we all have in their offices, very few ever get around to mentioning this little cramp-quashing tip.

Not sure when the three days leading up to your period are? Try to make your best guess, but don’t exceed the recommended dosage listed on the label.

Experiment with how many ibuprofen you need to eliminate your cramps. You may only need one or two a day for this to work, however, other women may need three. But, again, never exceed the recommended dosage on the label. And, if you’re not sure you can take ibuprofen, talk with your doctor first.

Natural alternative: Prefer to avoid medications or can’t take ibuprofen like me? Try popping one gram (1000 mg.) of omega-3 supplements with EPA and DHA per day during your premenstrual week. Like ibuprofen, this healthy fatty acid blocks the production of prostaglandins that trigger menstrual cramp pain. Since omega-3s have a blood thinning effect, skip if you’re on a blood thinner or your doctor says you should avoid blood thinners.

5. Write a list of cramp remedies you plan to try

If you’ve been facing the same menstrual cramp pain month after month without relief, it’s normal to expect the worst next month, too. Unfortunately, that expectation of pain could be making your discomfort worse, according to a 2013 study in the journal Psychology, Health & Medicine. That’s because your tendency to think of the worst possible pain scenario (called “pain catastrophizing”) ratchets up your perception of pain and prompts you to focus more on it, intensifying the stabby sensations.

To minimize pain, try writing a list of ways you would ease period discomfort should it arise, such as any you’ve read in this blog post or others you’ve found. A fear of not being able to control a situation worsens pain catastrophizing. Therefore, doing something that boosts your sense of control can help ease the anxiety that’s intensifying your discomfort.

[Photo: areta ekarafi]