If you suffer from period pain, or someone you know does, and if you have been told that there is nothing you can do: you have been lied to. There is plenty you can do, it is just that the knowledge isn’t part of what is taught within Western medical training.
I got my period pain fixed, and it makes me so angry that women are told this lie over and over again, are told that it is normal, because it stops them from seeking the help that is available. I’m on a mission to change this.
This is my story:
I suffered from severe period pain from the moment I started my period. The pain was so severe that in my teenage years I used to be sent to the nurse’s room at school each month. I curled up in pain on the bed there and waited for my mother to come and collect me. I would spent the first day or two of each period curled up in bed with a hot water bottle. Sometimes the pain was so bad I vomited.
I tried everything from mainstream drugs to homeopathy, but nothing worked. Around age 15 I was put on hormonal therapy for it. At age 16 I started taking the pill. As I no longer had “periods” (the bleeding caused by stopping the pill for a week is different from that of a period) I was free of pain. I stayed on the pill from the age of 16 to until I was 33, when I decided to stop taking the pill because I was diagnosed with precancerous cells on my cervix (I read some research showing a link between long term pill taking and these- If you want to read about it, the book “The Pill, Are you sure it’s for you” By Alexandra Pope, is fantastic).
My period pain came back with a revenge. My husband, who had never seen me with this pain, was shocked at how bad it was. I remember once we were driving when it started and I had to get him to park on the side of the road as I writhed in pain on the car seat, white as a sheet and covered in cold sweat, until I waited for the painkillers to kick in.
I went to the GP for help. I remember being stunned when all I was offered was to take pain killers. I said to the GP : “Really, in 15 years the medicine still hasn’t moved on?”. At the time I was working in a biotech company, and told my boss about this, and he said “if men had pain in their dick once a month you can be sure there would be a drug for it”!
I resigned myself to taking ibuprofen every month. Then I became pregnant and the pregnancy and birth seemed to temporarily fix the problem. My periods became more regular and I was pain free for a few years after having my children. Then, a few years after my second child was born, the pain came back. I resigned myself to taking the pain killers again.
In 2014 I met an osteopath in Cambridge called Teddy Brookes. I mentioned this to him and he said he could help. I was surprised and slightly disbelieving, but it was so bad I was willing to try anything. Teddy is trained in visceral osteopathy, something not all osteopaths are trained in. He felt the ligaments around the front of my uterus (the round ligaments), told me they were very tight, and worked on releasing them. It was not comfortable and I had to do some deep birth breathing during the treatment.
That evening and night I had a lot of cramps in my uterus, but the next morning I woke up feeling absolutely amazing, both physically and emotionally. I felt like nothing could touch me. The next cycle the pain was less but still there. I got in touch with Teddy and he talked me through how to release the ligaments myself. I had to get my husband to do it as I couldn’t get my fingers in the right direction but it helped. Within 2 or 3 cycles I was completely pain free and I have been for 6 years.
I was baffled by this because as a scientist I knew that from a scientific point of view, the cramps of period pain were caused by hormones called prostaglandins and I couldn’t see why releasing ligaments would affect this. Teddy explained that there cramps were still there, only that they were comfortable. I was delighted to be cured of the pain.
As I told women about my experience, some asked me to teach them how to release their ligaments. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because everybody is unique and I thought maybe other ligaments would be tight and therefore need a different technique. Teddy told me that it is almost always the round ligaments that are too tight (more on that later).
Other things happened along the way that helped my have a different relationship to my menstrual cycle. In 2016 I attended a workshop by Alexandra Pope of Red School, that helped me understand the changing energies throughout my cycle and how to tap into them. This led me to make sure I rested as much as possible during the first couple of days of my period. I blogged it about here.
With my own practise, working closely with Teddy (we created a postnatal massage course together), massaging new mothers with closing the bones, with supporting women with healing as a Reiki practitioner, and with training such as spinning babies and biomechanics for birth, I general became more aware of my body and of the importance of good balance for uterine health.
In 2019 I attended a workshop on womb health by Arvigo massage therapist Hilary Lewin. She brought a life size womb suit and proceeded to demonstrate in a very visual manner how the ligaments of the uterus affect period comfort.
The uterus is attached to the pelvis by several sets of ligaments. You can see a 3D illustration of how the uterus ligaments attach to the pelvis in this video. The round ligaments in particular attach from the top of the uterus and to the front of the pelvis. A healthy uterus is normally slightly bend over the bladder. If the round ligaments are too tight, the uterus will be bent forward a lot more, making expelling menstrual blood a lot harder, and therefore more painful (as the uterus will need to cramp harder to get the blood out).
In this video I explain in a very visual way what happens when the uterus is not optimally positioned.
Part of the problem is that we live sedentary and unbalanced lifestyle so many of us have tight ligaments (sitting down a lot tends to do that) and don’t even know it. Because everything in your body is linked, having tight or unbalanced ligaments and/or pelvis may affect many other things too, such as causing back pain or bowel issues. Abdominal massage therapist Barbara Loomis explains some of this with great illustrations here.
Sadly many women suffer needlessly suffer from horrendous pain, and because most of us believe the narrative that there is nothing we can do, we don’t seek help.
Here are some stories to illustrate the pain of what some go through, and in some case what helped them:
When I was younger, before kids I had some months were I would be crying & in excruciating agony, where I’d lay fetal style for hours in so much pain. Pain killers wouldn’t touch it. It wasn’t like that every month, but definitely had it a lot! I always had heavy periods with less pain or light with more pain! Doctors would always say : ‘it can’t be that bad’ and would basically ignore me. They wouldn’t believe me that paracetamol or ibuprofen didn’t work for me (I have a condition where I metabolise drugs really fast) I remember once (this is awful but) taking the strongest pain killers my Nan had prescribed to her for chronic pain, they still only barely took the edge off! My husband found me in a ball crying once & tried to take me to hospital but I knew there was no point. Once I started having kids I found they got so much better. I now have fairly ok period pain but I do now wrap my hips, use reiki, have a bath & rest (especially on my first day as much as I can)! Carly Lokrheim
From the onset of my periods I had severe pain. Every month I used to be floored in agony. I went yellow in skin tone and was physically sick and sometimes past out. I used fear it every month. My bleed was so heavy and clotted I used to leak right through my school uniform. I was taken to the doctors many many times and was fobbed off and treated as a silly girl. I felt (and it was said) that I had a low pain threshold and I would not be able to handle birth. This put me off ever having children (right up until I was in my mid 30’s) As I got older PMT got more and more intense till it started to affect my marriage. At this point I started Ayurvedic treatment which included massage, life style changes and diet changes. This really really helped with my periods and PMT. When we tried to get pregnant I found there was unexplained infertility, I started acupuncture and found it really helpful and also had a laparoscopy and found I had endometriosis scaring and fibroids. I think a combination of all three treatments/practices helped us to conceive and go on to have two babies. I now follow my cycles and adapt my life (as much as possible) to follow my inner seasons or at least be aware of them. I now also use a moon cup and relish my bleed as a time to retreat and surrender. Clare Wilson Hasted
I had awful period pain from the age of 11 when it started, I would vomit and faint/ pass out with the pain. I was put on the pill at 13 it didn’t really help what did help was paracetamol, hot water bottles and rest. Then in my late teens I read a book called Who dies? and starting using the meditations in there to cope with the pain, I used the same meditations to cope with my contractions. I also took cramp bark. Staci Sylvan
I tend to bleed for 17 – 20 days and I have excruciating period pains. This started at the age of 13 and has followed my entire life. I had hoped pregnancy might help but 6 weeks after giving birth sure enough agonising pains. I have tried so many therapies, pills implant etc. And the pain each month is still so severe I missed time off school as a teenager and miss work as an adult. Every job I have had I keep a hot water bottle at my desk and painkillers in a drawer. I have had a mirena since the age of 21 and since then have not missed work due to period pains. My cycle became regular and bleeding only for 5 days. After having my son I had a 4 year break from the mirena. I realised I just couldn’t cope without it, my body hurt so much, I was exhausted and honestly just not a nice person as I was in agony so often, couldn’t sleep, didn’t want my husband touching me. I had the mirena inserted last November and I remember about 7 days later feeling like I had woken up. My foggy head cleared and I felt in control of my body again. I do get pain but it’s manageable with a hot water bottle and rest. I am happier, calmer, more patient and I feel like I have my life back. I can’t over state how much the Mirena has changed my life. It’s spectacular and I will always be grateful to the GP who initially recommended it after about 7 years of begging for help and being dismissed as “you’re female you just have to deal with it”. In terms of the pain for me it’s thighs, bum, lower back and lower abdomen. It can been so painful I vomit from it. I feel like my whole body is stiff, exercise makes it worse. Rocking my hips on a gym ball cam help or gentle bouncing. When it’s at its worse there is no way I can work, I can barely talk and usually just end up crying. Jay
As a teenager my period pain was severe. If my daughter experienced pain like that, I would take her to the doctor, or emergency in some cases I had. However, I was too afraid/embarrassed/shamed/whatever to tell my mom or anyone. I remember having to go into work while vomiting and hunched over in pain because my boss wouldn’t take no for an answer because I didn’t sound sick. Sharon Bales
I’m aware that period pain can be caused by other issues than biomechanics. I know that some have PCOS or endometriosis or other conditions…but it is the same: you are sadly unlikely to get answers from mainstream medical professionals because they simply lack the training, knowledge and the tools to help you. It’s not their fault, rather it is the very narrow view of how Western culture sees the body that is to blame. As Katie Bowman explains in this article:
“Dysmenorrhea is a pain, literally. It’s a painful period, ranging from light to severe, that can also include vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and fainting. The “primary” means that the dysmenorrhoea is not occurring simultaneously with another known pelvic pathology. (Secondary dysmenorrhoea can be created or affected by issues like endometriosis and fibroids that can cause extremely painful periods, and I know that people suffering from those conditions have likely heard a million “just do this” solutions, and I’m not trying to offer that here, although I hope that movement might relieve some part of your pain.”
So what can you do to help with period pain? Here are some of the therapies I have personally used or heard that some had success with:
See a bodyworker that can work on your uterus alignment. This could be an osteopath or a chiropractor or a physiotherapist who is trained in visceral osteopathy. Or you could see someone who is trained in womb massage such as an Arvigo massage or a Mizan Therapy, or a Fertility Massage practitioner. Having a closing the bones massage may help too. Make sure to get recommendation from good local practitioners.
For the past year or so I had been suffering with debilitating period pains: I would faint, hang from my husband’s neck as if I was in labour, I’d only find relief in the bathtub where I’d be playing mermaid for at least half a day on my first day of bleeding. It got so bad I was checked for endometriosis and cervical cancer (as I also got 1 cycle with constant intermittent bleeding between 2 periods). Nothing wrong physically. After Sophie Messager mentioned her osteopath helping her with period pains to the point she is now pain free, I spoke to my chiropractor, where I’m currently going for regular sessions on another issue. For the past 2 cycles, she’s worked on my pelvis and the round ligaments holding my womb, and – touch wood – I’ve only had the slightest dull sensation on my previous cycle, not even worth calling pain, and am TOTALLY pain free in my current cycle. The difference is totally unbelievable. Ladies, if you suffer from period pain, this might be THE thing that changes everything. I already used rebozos, aromatherapy, herbal teas for myself, but nothing was even touching the edge of it. Until I got the tension in the ligaments released. I don’t even notice now, physically, that I’m on my period. (Emotionally and energy-wise I still do, and aromatherapy, herbs and rebozos still have a role to play there — but now it’s just become a week of gorgeous self-care, not a week of intense pain that makes that self-care so focused on the pain). Japjeet Rajbir Kaur Khalsa
I personally found osteopathy and Ayurveda completely resolves my painful periods. Also reframing my understanding after reading Wild Power has been beyond powerful. Emma Hayward
Work on your alignment (either face to face with a specialist such a physiotherapist, Pilates or yoga teacher or with an online course-see a list of courses at the end of this blog). Rosie Dhoopun is an alignment specialist. She shows you a movement routine to ease period pain here.
Alignment and movement worked for me. Plus surprisingly using cloth pads. I even get mild cramps using a mooncup so use that infrequently. I used to suffer terribly as a child and eat a whole packet of feminax to get through. These last years I use to have such bad knee pain but all stopped since releasing tension. Isn’t it such a shame we are told it’s normal and medication is the best thing. Rosie Dhoopun
My periods were once every 6 months. And I’d be on strong painkillers for a week to get even near function. I saw a chiropractor, switched to barefoot shoes and started stretching my calves in my 30’s which took me to regular and pain free. Philippa Wilmot
See an acupuncturist. I have personally had great results treating infertility and recurrent miscarriages with one and I found that it helped make my period more comfortable too. Here is a review of the evidence behind the effectiveness of acupuncture for period pain by the Acupuncture council.
See a herbalist. I saw Natasha at Forage Botanicals to help with the symptoms of the perimenopause who specialises in treating painful periods.
See a homeopath. Here is an article with some suggestions on homeopathic remedies that might help.
See a nutrition specialist with experience in this area. Since painful periods can be caused by too much inflammation in the body, changing your diet may help your pain.
Nutritional therapy helped me. Period pain was crippling as a teen and rectified by the pill, which I took for ten years but it caused depression. Period pains got quite bad again slowly over the course of a few years and then stopped when I stopped smoking and did a sugar detox! My friend is a nutritional therapist, I was having bad mood swings all the time and awful cramps during my period. I wanted to try anything that would stop me needing SSRIs. She told me it was because the body can take a certain amount of stress but it has limits, so when I stopped smoking, it had better circulation and that helps with pain management and when I stopped eating sugar, less stress on my organs and hormones. Barely a cramp since. Abbi Leibert
I found my period pain (not severe but present and very uncomfortable) almost disappeared after going vegan. Pippa Moss
I had breakthrough bleeding in between my periods every month for nearly 3 years, I had all sorts of investigations scans biopsies nothing came back as a problem. Even had 4 miscarriages but still nothing has been found as a problem despite all the blood tests and so on. I discovered something called hair tissue mineral analysis and arrange the sample sent off I also did some additional blood tests privately. I found extensive mineral deficiencies and results consistent with hypothyroid despite normal blood results. I had a specially adapted list of supplements and dietary changes given to me by nutritional list and Six months on no breakthrough bleeding my period is so much more manageable, even more so since I discovered magnesium spray, and I have been wrapping my hips for quite some time. Still not entirely sure what our future holds in terms of pregnancies but at the moment I’m just happy with how far I’ve come in the six months. Nicola Witcombe
Other more unusual things to try:
Year round wild swimming (I’m not suggesting you swim in cold water during the actual bleeding when keeping warm is important), but there is mounting evidence that it does wonders to you wellbeing. It earthes you as well, see my blog on the subject.
Try grounding yourself. Since period pain is at least in part caused by inflammation, and earthing/grounding has been shown to decrease inflammation, it may help. It can be as simple as walking or standing barefoot on the ground/grass. See a review of the evidence behind earthing in this paper.
Try dancing. Movement has been shown to ease period pain, and boost blood flow. Conscious dance practises, such as 5rhythms, allows you to get deep into a movement that is unique to you.
Nicky Smith, Ecstatic dance facilitator, says:
Ideally you would be able to see someone who is holistic in their approach and will take a case history and who can suggest an approach that covers all bases. But trying even one therapy is well worth it as it may be your first step on the road towards of a pain free period.
As a teenager I never looked for help, because period and its pain is/was a taboo; I also lied down in a foetus position crying from pain. No pain anymore after having kids; what helped me was to accept my female body, as well as solving female ancestral karma (Closing the bones, constellation therapy, cranio-sacral therapy). So not one particular method, but rather awareness that menstrual taboos are so deep in our consciousness and that unhealed ancestral female traumas feel so painful in the body because the one/generation who becomes aware of that releases a lot of that ancestral shit with the energy of menstruation. Laura Linde
What can you do for yourself (without seeing a therapist)
Wrap your hips! I show you how to do this in this video. Because it supports the pelvis, the uterus and its ligaments, and because it provides warmth, wrapping your pelvis during your period may provide relief. I show a simple way of doing it in this video (there are others on my YouTube channel, and I have a blog on postnatal wrapping that is full of examples of ways to do it). Here is a blog post from Mizan Therapy explaining why it might help.
Try switching to using reusable menstrual products. Some women report a decrease in period pain when they switched to using washable pads, period pants or a menstrual cup (There is a great YouTube channel about reusable sanitary products and menstrual cups here).
My extremely heavy flow (so much so I couldn’t go to work 2 days at start of period, leaked through clothes etc) was helped hugely by moving to cloth sanitary protection. They say the chemicals in disposable pads increase flow. There was never a mention of the sanitary wear I used as a cause, rather the potential need for gynae reviews and long term medication. Thankfully not needed thanks to cloth sanitary products. Claire Pitchford
My biggest healer has been switching to cloth and organic, un bleached sanitary ware and a series of womb massage sessions with Tania Meacher-Payne. She knocked my period down from 10-6 days. Life changing. I call her the womb fairy. Vikki Young
There is a list of things to try to decrease period pain in this blog by Katy Bowman :
- “1. Two days before the expected time for the flow to begin, reduce the amount of work done and increase the amount of rest. Take a warm tub bath each evening for thirty minutes.
- 2. When the flow starts, go to bed and keep hot-water bottles to the feet and lower abdomen.
- 6. To help prevent future attacks of dysmenorrhea give attention to the following:
- a. Regular habits of eating, sleeping, and exercise.
- b. A wholesome diet, free from spices, condiments, greasy or fried food, tea and coffee, with little or no fresh food.
- c. Avoid tight clothing, and see that the limbs, neck, and chest are prevented from chilling.
- d. Correct constipation, if present.”
Take an online course:
Checkout some websites
Read some books:
Here are the ones I have read and loved.
- Wild Power by Alexandra Pope
- Period Power by Maisie Hill
- The wise wound by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove
- Women’s bodies Women Wisdom by Dr Christiane Northrup
- Moon Time by Lucy Pearce
For supporting puberty:
- Reaching for the moon by Lucy Pearce
- How to support your daughter through puberty by Melonie Syrett
And here is a collection of 28 books on the topic
I’d love to hear about any other resources or therapies you have found useful!