Let’s End This Debate. Period Pain: Common or Normal?
In 2020 alone, 31.31 million womxn in the U.S. reported menstrual / period pain or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and at least one in four experience pain distressing enough to warrant the need for medication or absences from study or social activities.
Period pain has become a commonality that in turn has become normalized by society. We link the words “period” and “pain” together in a way that makes those who don’t experience cramps feel like the odd ones out. Because it has been accepted as a normal part of menstruation, it is tolerated and often not reported. This is heartbreaking because those with significant pain could be ignoring vital signs from their bodies to seek medical attention.
What Defines Pain?
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” Notice the use of the word emotional here. This is a big deal because many who suffer from menstrual pain also experience emotional symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, depression, headache, anxiety, and tension.
Prevalence of pain ranges widely from 45-93% in those of reproductive age. Those with severe pain range from 3-33%, severe meaning they are rendered incapacitated for 1-3 days of their cycle and have to miss school or work.
The World Health Organization estimates dysmenorrhea—the presence of painful cramps that originate in the uterus—as the most important cause of pelvic pain. It is also the greatest gynecological complaint.
The Impact on Daily Life
Debilitating cramps contribute to missed work, skipped school, and even canceled plans with those we care about. It can render us unmovable on our couches, in our beds, or even on bathroom floors. For those who aren’t blessed with a roommate or partner, it can mean having to plan ahead so you can care for yourself. You may need to use sick days if your most painful day lands on a workday, use valued vacation days if you’re out of sick days, or even lose income if your job doesn’t offer PTO and you need to call out.
What We’re Offered
Medical professionals can offer birth control options—pill, patch, IUD—or pain killers—ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol—but they’re not always the right choice for everyone. Sometimes birth control doesn’t alleviate the discomfort and can even lead to other unpleasant side effects. Pain killers can be detrimental when used long-term and often we develop a tolerance that leads to the need for higher doses. For those with sensitive stomachs, NSAIDs can pose a risk to their intestinal lining and cause inflammation that also contributes to pain.
You Have Other Options
In the case that birth control and pain killers aren’t right for you, or your cramps aren’t severe enough for their use, we’ve compiled a list of our top five alternatives:
- Change up your diet. What you eat can affect your pain levels. Consider adding more leafy greens, fiber, and nuts. Try and avoid high-sugar and heavily processed foods.
- Practice yoga. There are several poses—or asanas—that can help alleviate some of that tension in your pelvis. Try a few out and see which work best for you and don’t forget to breathe!
- Shift your mindset. Since we established above that pain can also be an emotional experience, it’s worth exploring mindfulness. Experiment with a seated or walking meditative practice to find your groove.
- Set up your period plan routine. We’ve created a helpful guide that incorporates several strategies from above (and some more!) all in one place. Craft a system that works best for your lifestyle and needs and make it a priority.
- Seek the care you deserve and speak up for yourself. If you’re suffering from excruciating cramps each month, talk to your healthcare provider. You may have an underlining condition that demands special attention and treatment. Make sure you feel seen, heard, and taken care of.
While the numbers show pain with menstruation is common, we don’t think that means it should be categorized as normal. Especially if it means those with underlying conditions aren’t getting treated because their pain is being dismissed. If you’re looking for other ways to support your cycle, taking The Daily for can help support your hormones and mood long-term and our PMS and Period Support supplement is a more targeted approach for pain during menstruation.
At the end of the day, you know your body and sense of normal best. Advocate for yourself and take back the narrative surrounding common vs. normal menstrual stereotypes.