help me stop the hurting
April 19, 2010 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Immediate pain relief for menstrual cramps: Go!

I have pretty bad cramps - they're not debilitating to the point where I can't get out of bed, but they hurt pretty damn bad. I've seen this question, but the answers focus more on things to do to help prevent cramps in the long term, rather than immediate relief.

I currently take ibuprofin or an acetaminophen, asprin, & caffeine combination. Neither gets rid of the cramps, or even close, but it takes the edge off. I'm open to other painkillers, if they help you more.

I've talked to my gyn, but her main suggestion was birth control which is something I've decided against for the moment. I'd rather deal with the cramps. I'm not interested in herbal remedies. I'm in my mid-20, never been pregnant, and never been on birth control. I get plenty of exercise, have a healthy diet, and take calcium daily.

Otherwise, I'm all ears - do certain yoga positions help you? A glass of wine or cup of coffee, or avoiding alcohol & caffeine? Does a specific type of exercise help - long walks, jumping jacks. . . I will probably try just about anything at this point.
posted by insectosaurus to Health & Fitness (66 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Heat! Those instant heat pads that you stick to your clothes work wonderfully.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:28 PM on April 19, 2010

Things to do now? Masturbate. Things that'll help in the future? Pilates.
posted by Unred at 6:30 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Curling up in the fetal position with a heating pad.

Why have you decided against birth control pills? They are miraculous at doing away with cramps.
posted by amro at 6:31 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

things that don't help me, and make the cramps so much worse:


things that do help:

heating pads
taking aleve/ibprofen/etc before your cramps start and not missing a dose until they're done
alcohol (muscle relaxer)
posted by nadawi at 6:34 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're not keen on masturbating at the office, I'd recommend naproxen. It's really the only thing that could make a dent in my cramps. Take it at the first sign of discomfort, before things get really bad, and you'll find that you can sail through your period like a normal, functional person.
posted by stefanie at 6:34 PM on April 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can here to suggest heat as well, it's like magic! Either those instant heat pads for when you're out and about or a hot water bottle or heating pad for when you're at home. I've also had some luck with walking about, but sometimes curling up with something warm is just so much more appealing.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:34 PM on April 19, 2010

Aspirin (or your favorite alternative OTC pain killer) and heating pad.

And yeah, orgasms help too.

Make sure you're wearing adequate pad protection, as the heating pad and the orgasms may cause some gushing. That's why they work so well. They cause you to release menstrual fluids and relieve pressure, thus relieving your cramps.
posted by marsha56 at 6:37 PM on April 19, 2010

orgasms during cramps have only ever made them 10 times worse. i guess i tense up too much or something...
posted by nadawi at 6:40 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was living in France, I stumbled into the pharmacy asking for ibuprofen for my wicked cramps, and the pharmacist also gave me a medication called Spasfon. It changed my life. It is some sort of anti-spasmotic and not a pain killer or muscle relaxer. It just makes the cramps magically stop. Did I mention that it changed my life. My gynecologist had never heard of it and wouldn't prescribe it, so I just have a friend mail me some every year from France. Maybe your doctor is more enlightened than mine. It's strange that it's unknown here because it works so well and everyone in France knows about it.
posted by defreckled at 6:41 PM on April 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

by nadawi: taking aleve/ibprofen/etc before your cramps start and not missing a dose until they're done

This. I actually talked to my gynecologist about my cramps and he suggested starting the ibuprofen like a few days BEFORE my period and then to continue taking them until it's all over - do not miss a dose. He said that taking them when you start feeling them is too late and I agree. By the time I start getting the cramps, it's too late. I'll run for the ibuprofen take a couple and then have to wait the 1/2 hour to hour of complete hell before it kicks in.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:41 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's that saying about an ounce of prevention vs. a pound of cure? I find I am better off if I get sleep & exercise the week and a half before, and avoid the salt & MSG. It's so damn difficult to avoid the salt & MSG, I would rip someone's head off for those damn Doritos, but yes, it helps. I stick with radishes and celery, and don't regret things as much the week after.
posted by kellyblah at 6:44 PM on April 19, 2010

Personally, ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) do barely a thing for me. You know what works? Naproxen (Aleve). I buy the generic stuff, mom (the lifelong nurse) swears it's the same thing. Worst headache/backache/cramps ever are gone in 30 minutes, every time. I know everyone's chemistry is different, so not all painkillers work on everyone. But it works for me.

Also orgasms don't hurt, even when you're feeling on top of the world.
posted by AlisonM at 6:44 PM on April 19, 2010

Drink about three cups of "relax" tea (e.g., chamomile, Nighty Night, Sleepytime). Also, no caffeine! Switch to ibuprofen only. (You know how caffeine can help people have bowel movements? That's because it promotes muscle contractions, the opposite of what you want!)

There are some other herbs out there that really help, as I was stuck on a commune once without any medicine, and a midwife dosed me to perfection in about 20 minutes. Do read the warnings if you start trying herbs. (If I remember right, she gave me motherwort and black cohosh? I hope someone who knows more than me about this shows up.)
posted by salvia at 6:44 PM on April 19, 2010

naproxen and heat
posted by spinturtle at 6:45 PM on April 19, 2010

seconding naproxen (aleve), and staying hydrated.
posted by inertia at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2010

nadawi, you're not the only one whose cramps get worse with orgasms. Same here, too.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:47 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best pain relief I ever had for cramps was off-label Vioxx. It's probably not an option anymore, though.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:52 PM on April 19, 2010

If I remember right, she gave me motherwort and black cohosh?

Black cohosh does not prevent cramping -- it can be used as an abortifacient.

Personally, I take three ibuprofen right at the very first twinge (my cramps take a long time to build up to full strength) and keep going with regular doses of two tablets for the next couple of days. As others have said, do not miss a dose. I'll also hang out with a heating pad for as long as I can stand it, or take hot baths. I used to use naproxen, but it stopped working for me for some reason. While it did work, though, I thought it was a wonder drug.
posted by runningwithscissors at 6:53 PM on April 19, 2010

Nthing "ounce of prevention;" taking pain relievers before the pain starts. Also: stay hydrated. I know it seems counter-intuitive, since you probably feel bloated, but drink plenty of water. It's the same sort of idea for keeping early contractions during pregnancy at bay.
posted by cooker girl at 6:56 PM on April 19, 2010

Coffee actually helps me. I was having terrible cramps on Friday, seemed like they would never end. I started in on my morning coffee at work, and by the time I was done with the cup over the course of about 45 minutes, the cramps were gone. But that first cup of coffee always feels like it physically relaxes me, oddly (second cup of coffee has the opposite effect, so I usually stop at one per day). If you find that coffee #1 of the day has the same effect on you, like it soothes your entire being, I'd give it a try in the morning.

I only get bad cramps on my first day, but they are pretty debilitating to the point where I almost went home from work. Have never taken painkillers for them, not for any particular reason. But I think the coffee works for me.
posted by wondermouse at 6:58 PM on April 19, 2010

Really bad cramps can sometimes mean endometriosis; your GYN probably shouldn't be jumping to the Pill without further investigation.

Right now, heating pad, sleep, hot tea. I have been known to take *one* Darvocet to stave off bad cramps that started while I wasn't near painkillers, then ramp back down to something less narcotic when things have settled down again. I am not your doctor.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:06 PM on April 19, 2010

I get way debilitated.

If I didn't get the drugs in in time (starting at the very first hint of cramps definitely will help for next month), and haven't borrowed a more serious drug from someone else:

My cramps are lessened when I'm wearing tampons versus pads. When my cramps worsen I know it's time to change my tampon.

I roll around on the bed testing out all kinds of crazy pretzel positions with my legs and arms until I find the one where the cramps hurt the least. Then, while staying in that position, I test out a handful of repetitive motions, eg, rubbing my foot back and forth against the cool sheets, moving my arm up and down, squeezing my calf with my hand. Sounds bizarre, I know, but I think it probably just takes my mind off of the pain, and kind of puts me into a little bit of a trance.

One time, I think I actually auto-hypnotized myself out of cramps. I think I'd taken some kind of PM pain reliever, and was lying in bed in the pitch darkness, and just kind of, I don't know, achieved some kind of mix of meditation and willpower, and the cramps just evaporated. I've never managed to do it since, but if you're into or successful with meditating, you might try that.

I usually wind up involuntarily expelling all the contents of my abdomen, from both ends, which I think relieves the pressure, and afterward I feel much better.
posted by thebazilist at 7:08 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's been awhile but strangely enough, warm creamy soup used to help me, something like tomato or cream of chicken. I think the heat of the soup served the same purpose as a heating pad but internally.
posted by tamitang at 7:08 PM on April 19, 2010

Black cohosh does not prevent cramping -- it can be used as an abortifacient.

Shoot, really bad info on my part, thanks for correcting it.
posted by salvia at 7:09 PM on April 19, 2010

Queen Victoria used tincture of cannabis
posted by timsteil at 7:12 PM on April 19, 2010

Nthing heat. Those stick-on disposable heat pad things are great--I keep a box in my locker at work.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:14 PM on April 19, 2010

Coffee gives me excruciating cramps, so you may want to eliminate it if you can and see if it helps.
posted by lunasol at 7:15 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Heating pad. Especially helps for late-night cramps so bad you can't sleep. The heat helps melt away the crampiness and also helps lull me to sleep.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:18 PM on April 19, 2010

Crap, I hit post too early!

I also have a monthly steak, greens and a bottle of red wine dinner ritual that happens within the first few days of my period. I don't know that it does anything to numb the physical pain, but it's a meal that I really enjoy, and taking a moment to take care of me really improves my overall mood, which makes cramps much more tolerable for me.

(I also have crazy heavy periods, and while I'm not sure of the science behind it, I feel good about eating iron rich foods at a time when my body is shedding a bunch of iron.)
posted by mollymayhem at 7:19 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

BC Powder and a regular can of Coke. Best thing ever.
posted by govtdrone at 7:28 PM on April 19, 2010

Curl up in bed in the fetal position while nursing a baby bottle full of Scotch.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:30 PM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also a fan of the disposable heat pads, those things work wonders for cramps.
posted by Polgara at 7:46 PM on April 19, 2010

Leaning against something and putting my weight into it through my hands. Releases the pain pretty effectively! I used this technique in labour too, and it worked fabulously.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:48 PM on April 19, 2010

I can't do much caffeine so I take aspirin and acetaminophen together and it helps a lot. It's like Excedrin Migraine without the jitters. A heating pad is nice too.

Orgasm doesn't do a damn thing for my cramps, but it does take my mind off them for a few minutes anyhow.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:55 PM on April 19, 2010

I've just started taking Valerian root for my cramps and it works great! I take 1 capsule every 4 or 5 hours and haven't needed to touch an ibuprophen. It's also made me very mellow, but not sleepy due to the low dose.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:01 PM on April 19, 2010

The lady here swears by Buscopan (butylscopolamine), another anti-spasmotic for abdominal pain, also used for IBS. It's over the counter here, don't know about the US. As I'm told, a 10-mg pill is usually enough for the day and works very quickly.
posted by _dario at 8:12 PM on April 19, 2010

Aleve used to work wonders for me, but birth control pills worked better than anything else. They were magical. No more cramps, lighter predictable periods, much much clearer skin and I could skip my periods if I wanted.

I am currently breastfeeding a baby , but I am will probably go back on the pill if my cramps and zits come back after I stop breastfeeding, even though I had my tubes tied after the baby was born.
posted by artychoke at 8:24 PM on April 19, 2010

I was a vegetarian for years and during that time my cramps were way less terrible. They returned in full force when I started eating meat again. I don't know what about it, but I found that when I take GNC Women's Ultra Mega multivitamins, the cramps are about 10x lower in intensity.
posted by miscbuff at 8:26 PM on April 19, 2010

Advil and heating pads always helped me. But yeah, now that I'm on birth control, those horrible, debilitating cramps are a distant memory. If I'd have known how much it would help, I would have been on the pill at age 12. I'm not kidding.
posted by radioamy at 8:28 PM on April 19, 2010's Definitive Guide to Cramp Relief

For years I got cramps so badly that I had to take BC pills and start popping prescription Naproxen the instant the blood arrived. Nowadays I just take the pill; if I have a bad month, I supplement it with a few shots of moonsh...a few shots of bourbon.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:33 PM on April 19, 2010

Seconding BC Powders. The ingredients are pretty much the same as Excedrin or Midol, but they kick in way faster.
posted by arianell at 8:36 PM on April 19, 2010

I will agree with everyone who says start taking your OTC painkiller of choice at the first sign of cramps, and take more every x hours until your period is over. Of course make sure to have a little something to eat if your painkiller causes stomach upset.

My cramps are lessened when I'm wearing tampons versus pads. When my cramps worsen I know it's time to change my tampon.

I'm the exact opposite. It's inconvenient if I'm at work, but if I'm at home on my worst days, I wear pads and it's not nearly as bad. See if you can figure out if one way or the other works for you.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2010

Best answer: I have awful cramps on the first day, too. Here are three things that have helped me:

Flaxseed. Bake some flaxseed muffins and eat them over a couple of days prior to, and the first day of, your period. It works as a blood thinner, apparently? And it significantly reduces my cramps when I remember to eat it.

The routine, mentioned above, where you take ibuprofen for 3-4 days in advance of your period. This works (and it reduces flow, too!). It's just hard for me to remember.

Finally, someone above endorsed the heating pads you can stick to your knickers. If I've messed up the flaxseed and ibuprofen routines, this is the only thing that can get me through the day of.

(Just to reiterate YMMV: tampons actually worsen my cramps -- same with caffeine. Boo!)
posted by artemisia at 9:17 PM on April 19, 2010

A heating pad set to max, tiger balm above the pubic mound and lower back, and/or a really hot bath. When its not so bad that I debate having the whole contraption ripped out going for a walk helps.

nadawi, you're not the only one whose cramps get worse with orgasms. Same here, too.


When its at its worst I can't wear tampons either. The whole region front and back is one big screaming pile of hurt, even threatening to touch there is enough to make things worse.
posted by squeak at 9:32 PM on April 19, 2010

I'm waiting for the day when modern medicine can eliminate periods in a reliable way that actually catches on with lots of people, like pills for birth control. Maybe I'll invest in the company that makes the Mirena.

A single dose of ibuprofen always worked better for me than acetaminophen, but when you have cramps, 30 minutes is too long to wait. For relief within a minute... I've never used heating pads but I like applying pressure to my stomach area. Like sunshinesky said, but I apply the pressure near the source of the cramps. Unfortunately, this is really difficult to do without something like the edge of a couch (cushioned but firm).
posted by tantivy at 10:00 PM on April 19, 2010

Amen to the naproxen (Aleve) and a heating pad! Sometimes I'll alternate the heating pad between front (to deal with the cramps) and back (to deal with lower back pain). If I'm in bed, I'll sometimes do the pressure thing by putting my hand over the area that hurts and then laying on my stomach.
posted by scarnato at 10:18 PM on April 19, 2010

Nothing works better for really bad cramps than marijuana.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:15 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anyone know why Spasfon is not available in the US? It seems to be of benefit. As for the question, Aleve (3 tablets before cramps start) worked for me. The best was Oxycontin, which I was taking for something else. For immediate relief, if you can keep it down, vodka.
posted by fifilaru at 1:11 AM on April 20, 2010

Also, if you are thin you can try massaging your uterus. It sounds odd, if you try you can hold on to it a bit and give it a good massage, it really works. I used to do this way back when I had a uterus. It seems to only work with thin women.
posted by fifilaru at 1:14 AM on April 20, 2010

The only thing that help against my (neurogenic, not menstrual) cramps, other than caffeine, is Diclofenac.
posted by HFSH at 1:46 AM on April 20, 2010

For me : caffeine, meat, and milk products all make things worse.

I've been walking a lot in my general life, and that gas helped a ton in my period life. There used to be days when the cramps were so bad, I'd puke upon standing to get our of bed.

In my younger days, pot definitely was an enormous help, but I didn't smoke it for a long time, and now my tolerance has changed. I get anxious (more than I usually am), and just feel unwell.

Meditation has been helpful, but it's a skill to practice when you're not crampy so that it can be effective when you are crampy.

Really hot baths, very much effective.

And pepto, in case you get the nausea that I get.
posted by bilabial at 4:02 AM on April 20, 2010

I avoid eating until the ibuprofen kicks in. One bite to get the pills down, and then all food is cramp-inducing poison until it takes. (Especially water... it seems to have something to do with volume and weight in my stomach?) Anyway, if I just grit my teeth and ignore omg-carbs-staaaaarving for that half hour, life is so much better.
posted by anaelith at 6:06 AM on April 20, 2010

Best answer: For immediate relief: get down on all fours, put your head and shoulders down on the ground (or bed), and your behind in the air. (This is best done where no one can see you, obviously)

For next month, and the months thereafter: Start taking calcium, magnesium, and zinc, at least two weeks before you're due, but preferable all month. Also take Evening Primrose Oil capsules.

Those are things I've used for years, so I can't find any of the original studies I read (this was pre-internet), but the article above does have some of the info. And if you Google, you'll find more.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:52 AM on April 20, 2010

Like others have touched on, taking a couple of aleves before the cramps start (and then regularly for a few days) does wonders. It doesn't work quite as well if you wait until you have pain. It inhibits the production of prostaglandins, which in turn prevents cramps. Once the production has started, though, it doesn't do as much.

Following the above naproxen regimin also makes the period shorter and lighter. [refs: 1 2]. (I've wondered if taking naproxen leaves the endometrium thicker, since it reduces total amount of shedding. It seems like it should, but I haven't found info on this.)

I've also read that ingesting calcium helps reduce cramps. I'm not sure what the optimal amount or timing is, though.
posted by sentient at 7:32 AM on April 20, 2010

Nthing everyone who says to start taking the ibuprofen ahead of time.

The *minute* I see that I've started bleeding, my first steps are to grab the Glad Rags and down three Motrin pills (but not on an empty stomach). Preemptive strike!

If I wait until there's an actual feeling of cramps, it's too late. Then the ibuprofen does nothing.

Then I take another three pills about every four hours (except while sleeping, and never on an empty stomach) until the worst of the bleeding is over. No exceptions! I got a harsh reminder this last time - I took the night off from ibuprofen too early and got woken up by awful cramps for my carelessness.
posted by cadge at 7:39 AM on April 20, 2010

I get very bad cramps (thanks, IUD) and find the best solution is a hot water bottle, or a microwaveable lavender pad. Sadly cannabis isn't an option for me!
posted by mippy at 7:45 AM on April 20, 2010

Seconding pilates. A few years ago, I took Pilates 3x/week. After about 4 months, my menstrual cramps DISAPPEARED--my period would just appear one day, silently and painlessly, it was almost unnerving. This effect disappeared soon after I stopped doing Pilates consistently.
posted by chelseagirl at 7:47 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I haven't tried it yet, but raspberry leaf tea is supposed to provide some relief.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:58 AM on April 20, 2010

Oh sorry, that's probably too 'herbal' a suggestion for you...
posted by sunshinesky at 9:06 AM on April 20, 2010

Bathtub and wine. A hot bath will instantly relax muscles in addition to booze, which also helps the anxiety about being in pain. Smoke weed if you can. Relax by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

My cramps are so bad I that I can barely move. I vomit, pass out from pain, and my muscles spasm from my back down to my knees. This regimen has been my tried and true method for ten years, and coincidentally, it's the most straightforward and natural of everything I've tried.

Nthing pilates and abstaining from excessive salt and alcohol two weeks before your period.
posted by Suimeikai at 9:22 AM on April 20, 2010

Whats with all the heating pads? A good old-fashioned hot water bottle is so much better, plus you don't have to worry about electrocuting the cat.

There is an operation called an endometrial ablation that you may want to look into if you are done having children or never want any. It is easy done at the same time you have your tubes tied. I used to get terrible cramps (and other effects), but after the operation they just vanished.
posted by meepmeow at 10:31 AM on April 20, 2010

I can't say enough about the Thermacare (the instant heat that you can stick on and wear for the day). The drugstore version seems to work a little less well, so I'd try the real deal but the knock offs work in a pinch.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2010

My gyn prescribed me Ponstel/Mefenamic acid. It works wonders for me and my cramps are suicide-grade awful.
posted by infinityjinx at 5:40 PM on April 20, 2010

Triple dose of Naproxen generally does the trick for me. You know that feeling you get in your lower back, almost down by your tailbone? The one that lets you know things have started to move down there? It happens before there's any blood, before there's any cramps. It's that first sign of things to come. That's when I down three Aleve. Also, pads are the way to go. Something about the vaginal contractions happening around that piece of cotton can make things five times worse.

If the cramps have already started and you've just now taken your three Naproxen and are waiting for them to kick in (always about 45 excruciating minutes for me), try the heating pad and massaging your lower belly.

If they are just really that bad that you can't get up and can't concentrate and your cat is looking at you funny and then you realise it's because you're loadly moaning because the vibrations take a bit of the edge of, the best thing I've found for those kinds of cramps is to lay on my stomach and have someone press *hard* into my lower back just on either side of my spine. It goes something like this: person puts knuckles directly on either side of spine and presses hard - really leans into it - for about 10 seconds. Then they raise up a bit, move an inch up or down, and press again. Do this up and down the very lower back for a few minutes. This can instantly relieve a lot of the pressure for me. It doesn't get rid of it completely, and you have to repeat it fairly frequently until the Aleve kicks in, but damn if this hasn't made the difference for me between "uncomfortable" and "delirious".
posted by mosessis at 5:41 AM on April 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all so, so much to all for your suggestions! I've tried several of them already and will be trying more next time.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:08 AM on May 3, 2010

Response by poster: I had a period with only mild cramps - it was AMAZING.

What I did: Took fish oil every day, substituted a cal-mag-zinc for one of my normal calcium pills. For the latter half of my cycle, I added an additional cal-mag-zinc.

Then, the day before my period was due, I started taking naproxen, and took it regularly - didn't even give the cramps a chance to start. As soon as I felt anything, I started taking a double dose.

I bought a heating pad too, and it's nice, but I didn't even really need it, because I wasn't in intense pain like I have been every month before. Crossing my fingers that this month is a repeat of last month. . .

I've also started doing pilates, which I used to do but had stopped.

For those who asked - the reason I am not considering birth control and want to stay away from herbal remedies is that I'm on a couple medications for my mood, and after several years of depression, I'm finally feeling better. I don't want to risk messing with that.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:00 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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