17 Aug What bad menstrual cramps reveal about your overall pain
Do you get moderate to severe menstrual cramps–and also feel like you experience more overall pain than other women? That you’re more sensitive to the discomfort of medical procedures, intense exercise, accidental bumps and other ouch-inducers? Or issues that don’t seem to impact others–say, a bitingly cold wind or a hard wooden bench–send ripples of pain through you?
There’s something important you need to know: Moderate to severe menstrual cramps are a sign that you’re more likely to experience greater pain, in general, throughout your entire monthly cycle, according to numerous studies (such as this, this, this and this).
This is why women who don’t get bad menstrual cramps might find some situations just mildly uncomfortable, or even painless, while the same situations can cause intense distress for you.
Why pain hurts more for you
The menstrual cramps aren’t the cause of your extra sensitivity to pain; they’re just one symptom.
The real problem is that your body is constantly overreacting to pain triggers, researchers say.
More bad news? This heightened sensitivity to pain increases right before your period and in the first few days of your period due to low estrogen. Which is why your cramps feel more intense.
So, now what?
First, if you’ve been struggling with pain sensitivity, I hope you find comfort simply in knowing it’s not “all in your head”. Family, friends and even healthcare providers with less sensitivity to pain may not have taken your discomfort seriously. But, rest assured, your pain is real.
Second, now that you understand there’s a biological reason behind your pain sensitivity, alert healthcare professionals when you’re facing medical procedures or encounter injuries so you can be treated appropriately. Pain management is a vital part of any recovery because it helps reduce stress as you heal.
Finally, try the following methods that have been shown to reduce pain sensitivity in studies. You could discover that a simple technique, vitamin or combination of options could dial down pain to a point where you’re more comfortable all cycle long.
7 ways to reduce pain sensitivity
Sitting with your back straight and inhaling and exhaling slowly as you focus on your breath may seem like advice from New Age gurus. But, scientists back up claims that it reduces pain sensitivity.
According to numerous studies (such as this, this and this), meditation reduces stress and inflammation that can contribute to pain sensitivity.
And over time, it may curb signals to areas of the brain that process pain (such as the thalamus) and prompt greater activity in brain areas that reduce pain sensations (the orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices), making you more resilient to discomfort.
To try it: If you’re new to meditation, begin with 5 minutes daily and slowly work your way up to at least 10 to 20 minutes daily. Use these free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center to help get you started.
2. Take a B-complex vitamin
A daily B-complex vitamin may reduce chronic discomfort by reducing pain signals that travel along nerve pathways to the brain, several studies conclude (such as this, this and this)
You can find B-complex vitamins at drugstores, health food stores and Amazon.com.
3. Sleep longer and better–or nap
Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep nightly reduces pain sensitivity by giving you the time you need to reach the deepest stages of sleep that reduce inflammation, improve full healing of body tissue and reverse fatigue, which are all tied to pain lessened sensitivity.
Tossing and turning or have trouble falling asleep? Put lavender potpourri by your bedside (far from curious pets and children). Research shows that lavender ushers in sounder sleep thanks to calming compounds in the fragrant flower that relax you when breathed in.
Or use these 5 other study-backed sleep tips I wrote about here.
Need to stay up late or get up early for work, family or other obligations? Then try to sneak in a midday nap. This 2015 study shows that a 30-minute afternoon snooze reverses pain sensitivity caused by shorting yourself on sleep.
4. Then down caffeine
Pairing a good night’s sleep (or make-up nap) with caffeinated coffee or tea works better than analgesics at relieving pain, according to this 2017 study in the journal Nature Medicine. That’s because lack of sleep and fatigue intensify pain signals while being well-rested and alert reduces them.
Bonus: Caffeine is a mild painkiller itself. Studies (such as this and this) show it stimulates certain cells that reduce pain sensations.
5. Turn to blue-green algae
Regularly adding powdered spirulina—a blue-green algae rich in protein and minerals that tastes a little like spinach—to smoothies, salads, soup or other foods may tamp down pain sensations by reducing an overabundance of pain-causing chemicals called prostaglandins, reports the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia.
You can find spirulina at health food stores and Amazon.com.
6. Channel your inner artist
Love to doodle? Strum a guitar? Knit? Creative activities like these have helped women with chronic illnesses experience less pain (as this, this and this study show) and it may help you, too.
Being creative gives you the opportunity to express your emotions, which reduces anxiety and boosts mood–which have been linked to less pain sensitivity.
7. Perfect your posture
You’ve heard that sitting and standing up straight help reduce aches in your back, shoulders and neck. Well, a 2011 study shows it also improves pain tolerance overall.
The researchers theorize that a confident posture makes you feel more in control, which, in turn, makes you more resilient to discomfort.
Note: Consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new vitamin or supplement. And be an active member of your own healthcare team by researching any new vitamin or supplement yourself at WebMD.com.
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