Self care, without ibuprofen, for menstrual cramps?
August 16, 2010 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Terrible menstrual cramps, and I can't take any pain reliever other than Tylenol (acetaminophen). What can I do right now at home (i.e., without a prescription/doctor) to ease the pain?

I can't take any kind of NSAIDs/ibuprofen (such as advil/aleve/motrin) because of a medication I'm taking (which also apparently tends to make cramps worse, according to lots of random anecdata I see on web forums). I will get to talk to a doctor about this among other issues with the medication -- but not for weeks.

What can I do now? I am using a heating pad. I've tried having orgasms, but that only eases the pain for the 5 or so minutes immediately following the orgasm (and the process of reaching an orgasm is hurting anyway, no matter the method, because it seems to work the same muscles that hurt).

I'm not accustomed to menstrual pain this bad, because I've only had bad cramps starting this year (since I started the medication). And right now is the worst pain I've ever had. It's not different, just even worse than ever before. Thank you for any ideas.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (59 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Hot baths, quite hot, often work for me. At least they take the edge off.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:18 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Often a heating pad isn't enough heat for me. Sitting in a super-hot bath (as hot as you can stand, assuming medical issues don't preclude this) is more helpful. Bring a book, add more hot water as needed. Be careful getting out, this can make you lightheaded.

I've also found that bad cramps make me tense up, which tends to make the cramps worse. Anything you can do to calm down your nervous system might help a bit. No guarantees, but chamomile or lavender tea might also help out, as might yoga or a relaxation exercise.

Also, possibly, move around. Take a walk, or do something even more vigorous. I know it's the last thing that you want to do, but sometimes this works to both 1) distract me from the pain and 2) relieve it somewhat.
posted by Knicke at 2:18 PM on August 16, 2010

I'm going to guess you're on some kind of blood thinner simply because the exact same thing happened to me when I started on blood thinners.

What helped me:
= drinking lots and lots of water.
= Getting up and walking around. (Yes, I know that's the last thing you feel like doing, but if you can stand it, it does really help.)
= Keep up with the Tylenol as often as allowed - it will, eventually, make a difference.
= Moist heat: a shower is good, a decent soaking bath is better
= Having direct, firm pressure applied to my lower back (this is the same thing that helped me get through labor)

In my case, I would have terrible, mind-bendingly bad cramps until I passed a large-ish clot/clump of tissue and then they would just stop. Getting up and moving around can help that process.

Call your doctor. Pain management is important. You don't have to endure this, and your doctor should be able to prescribe something non-prohibited to help with the pain (I ended up with half-doses of vicodin).
posted by anastasiav at 2:19 PM on August 16, 2010

Ugh, sucky. I was going to reccomend heating pads, but it sounds like you have that covered. If you are having back pain as well as stomach pain (I always do), try having a heating pad on both front AND back. It is like a big band of warm goodness all over.

When I used to have really bad cramps, my natural instinct was to curl up in a little ball, but getting up and walking around made me feel a lot better in the long run. They make chemical heating pads now that you can stick over clothing like underwear or a tight tank top.

Call your doctor. Pain management is important. You don't have to endure this, and your doctor should be able to prescribe something non-prohibited to help with the pain (I ended up with half-doses of vicodin).

This. Maybe you can get a prescription for a muscle relaxant? Or for right now, maybe some over-the-counter magnesium?
posted by muddgirl at 2:22 PM on August 16, 2010

I've found liquor to be surprisingly effective. If it doesn't interact with any of your medications, try a shot (fixed any way you like)... it relaxes the muscles a bit and takes the edge off. Personally, I like vodka-and-cranberry or mojitos, but anything would work.
posted by which_chick at 2:28 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

DO NOT exceed the standard dose of acetaminophin!!! Overdose can lead to fatal liver damage, emphasis on the fatal.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:29 PM on August 16, 2010

I'm sorry you're having to deal with bad cramps- they truly are miserable. This is what I do when I am faced with a bout of really awful cramps.

1. Make sure the environment is comfortable- adjust temperature as needed. If I'm hot, I feel worse all over, and crankier.
2. Use a heating pad liberally and experiment with sitting or laying positions.
3. Take a hot shower or bath, like others have said.
4. Walk around, maybe even work out gently if you feel you can stand it. I am always reluctant to get up and do this, but 98% of the time I feel much better afterwards.

Oh, and now that you know to anticipate bad cramps, start taking your Tylenol a day before your period starts. It'll really take the edge off the pain, instead of being hit with godawful cramps and then treating them when you're already hurting.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:30 PM on August 16, 2010

Eat enough! I know it may be practically impossible to stand at the kitchen counter (I have the awful cramps every month)

When I was in college I was really, really poor. More poor than
I am now. I had to take meat and dairy out of my diet almost entirely (I got steak on dates, otherwise it was pasta, beans, fruits and veggies.) that made a huge difference.

I also find that sometimes walking helps me, but sometimes it leaves me crumpled on the ground, blocks from home.

Nthing a hot bath. Don't fill the tub all the way, just enough to cover your guts when you're al laid down as you can get in there.

Caffeine makes my cramps worse. So does drinking milk, but a small amount of cheese is usually ok for me.

Finally, meditation. There are some guided ones on iTunes, for health, and for falling asleep. Yes, they're pretty hippy dippy, but the pretty music helps me fall asleep when nothing else will.
posted by bilabial at 2:30 PM on August 16, 2010

Even though I hate it, doing crunches works pretty well for me - WHILE I'm doing them sucks, but a few moments afterwards it feels great. Maybe tiring out those muscles makes them not have the energy to cramp up!

But yeah, call your doctor. You shouldn't have to just live with it.
posted by coupdefoudre at 2:30 PM on August 16, 2010

If there's someone else who can help you, you might have them massage the achilles tendon area of your feet. When things get really crampy for my sweetheart in the past I have done this, and she said it helped. Good luck - I hope you feel better soon.

Actually, come to think of it, I just hope you feel better right now.
posted by Nabubrush at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2010

get/got/have gotten
posted by Nabubrush at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2010

This will not help immediately, but I found that taking/eating calcium would help with my cramps in the past. It was especially helpful if I made sure to have enough starting a few days before menstruating. So, you could take a calcium supplement, or eat something with a high calcium content, like dark leafy greens.
posted by annsunny at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2010

Tylenol kind of sucks. Gin is traditional (unless you can't have alcohol).
posted by zadcat at 2:47 PM on August 16, 2010

I know someone who used to find marijuana to be the most effective pain reliever for menstrual cramps.

She stopped smoking pot when it started costing money.
posted by bilabial at 2:51 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding a prescription for a muscle relaxant, if you can take them. If your doctor will set you up, you can keep them on hand for next time.

My extremely-crampy friend who is a midwife has this semi-gross advice for you: "when you go to pee, bear down hard (like pushing) a few times while you are seated in the bathroom, it helps release tissue and lets you control the muscles involved in a way you might not be able to otherwise".

She also said that finding resources online intended for women in early labour might help you learn some techniques to manage your pain with stretching, especially if you have lower back involvement.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:04 PM on August 16, 2010

Mine have gotten worse too in recent years. Hot baths, loud moaning, booze and constantly reminding myself it will be gone (or much better) in another 12 hours are what I use. That and six or seven Advils, fuck my liver. I'm so sorry that last solution isn't available to you.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:06 PM on August 16, 2010

Fill a long tube sock with uncooked rice or buckwheat. Tie or sew end shut. Heat in microwave and place on tummy - I find the weight + heat helps more than a heating pad.

Nthing - call your doctor - you shouldn't have to live with this - she should be able to prescribe something you can take.
posted by leslies at 3:06 PM on August 16, 2010

A lot of people are recommending exercise...but when cramps are attacking pretty savagely, the fetal position + heating pad works the best for me.

Also, if you can tell that you're about to get your period, start the Tylenol right then. I'm an Advil user myself, and if I can take a few before I actually get my period, the relief during cramps is unbelievable compared to the pain of a normal period.

I've also started taking evening primrose oil capsules (1000 mg/day) based on a recommendation that it'll relieve some cramping pain. It's only been a month, so I'll see when I get my period if it's worked...

Good luck, feel better.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2010

Wait what I am talking about. Disregard my Tylenol comment. It's obvious how much I use Tylenol based on my previous comment.

And if it makes you feel any better, I max out the Advil dose and sometimes that STILL doesn't do the trick.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 3:17 PM on August 16, 2010

If you're using tampons or a cup, you might be more comfortable using pads instead so there's nothing taking up space and putting that slight pressure on your vaginal walls. If you can't run out to the store and don't have any, a towel will do.

Also, try the yoga pose called child's pose. Stay that way for as long as is comfortable.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2010

- Lots of water
- Hot tea is even better
- Hot baths
- Child pose can sometimes help:
- When my cramps are really bad, I will do the child pose in my bed, or just pull my knees up to my chest, a heating pad helps here as well, and then focus on my breathing.

Really, focusing on your breath can really help you to get past the worst moments of just about any pain like this. If you put on some soothing music, and tell yourself to focus on breathing in through your nose and then out through your mouth, and just focus on that instead of the pain, you may start to feel better.

Particularly since these cramps are caused by your muscles, well, cramping and tightening, anything you can do to relax and soothe yourself is liable to help, in my experience!

If you can enlist anybody to give you a lower back rub, or even a good solid footrub, that might also help.

I'm sorry you're going through this, it can be really, really awful. Please feel better soon!
posted by pazazygeek at 3:21 PM on August 16, 2010

Whoa, needs more cowbell beat me right to it! Child's pose ftw.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:22 PM on August 16, 2010

Are you on a birth control pill? Is that an option with the meds that you are taking?

I used to have terrible awful cramps when I was in middle school. They got a little better in high school, and bearable in college. Then when I went on the pill, they basically stopped (my periods are lighter and less sucky in general). I wish I had known how much it would help because I would have started taking the pill 10 years earlier!

You might also want to look into an extended-cycle pill such as Seasonique (many regular pills can also be taken for three months straight). Fewer periods = fewer times for PMS. Also many people (myself included) have lighter periods with extended-cycle pills.
posted by radioamy at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2010

Ugh, you poor thing. Nthing the advice that you shouldn't have to live with this; your doc should be able to help you.

If you have to be up and about, disposable heat-up pads you find in the pain relief aisle work really well. You can get the kind made for your lower back or for your abdomen (or both!). Double check the size (so frustrating to get home and find that you just got one that's three sizes too big) and if you can afford it, buy the name brand rather than the store brand. They seem to work better.

I also wanted to second the advice to get enough calcium. Taking a calcium/magnesium supplement throughout the month has helped me greatly.

Feel better soon.
posted by corey flood at 3:27 PM on August 16, 2010

Sex/orgasms can help with period pain...
posted by analog at 3:32 PM on August 16, 2010

A friend taught me once that if you push in gently behind the knob at the outer part of your ankle and hold for a moment, menstrual pain will bizarrely subside. It's uncanny, BUT also weirdly unhelpful because the relief doesn't last; the moment you stop the pain comes right back, almost like holding a hurt body part down hard until it becomes numb only to have sensation flood back when you let go. But worth mentioning I suppose. A safe homemade heating pad is the only other thing I can think of, and I'm sure you've heard that one before.
posted by ifjuly at 3:38 PM on August 16, 2010

All I can do is reiterate the advice above about heating pads, rest, and misery. I drank a lot of herbal tea and occasionally took sick days from work to curl up with a heating pad in silent misery. Staying in a warm environment-- almost too warm-- improved matters, too; even in the summertime I would curl up under a couple of blankets, which was kind of miserable given how hot it made me but actually seemed to help with the cramps.

Assuming you're on a blood thinner, however, when you talk to your doctor, ask about Mirena. It releases a small and targeted dose of progesterone, which doesn't cause blood clotting issues the way estrogen does. Otherwise, birth control pills (with estrogen) have helped with this issue for several of my friends.
posted by posadnitsa at 3:51 PM on August 16, 2010

I also can't have NSAIDs and I swear by those stick on heating pads. But I've significantly reduced my period pains with nutritional changes. Coming up on my period I make sure to get my minerals- I supplement magnesium because most diets are low in it. I also drink coconut water and take fish oil and gamma linoleic acid to reduce inflammation.
posted by idle at 3:54 PM on August 16, 2010

Vibrator. On the lower belly or the old fashioned way.
posted by serazin at 4:04 PM on August 16, 2010

The only thing that touches my cramps, when I have them, is two good beers. I don't know why, but it works.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:11 PM on August 16, 2010

Menstrual cramps are (apparently) caused by a sudden dip in calcium levels. If you take calcium (a whole bunch, as in the maximum recommended daily dosage--make sure the calcium includes magnesium) the cramps may go. For a long term fix try taking vitamin E every day.
posted by Go Banana at 4:13 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Acupuncture - though in my experience, it only works for 1 cycle at a time (ie you have to keep going back again & again, so it becomes expensive). Thankfully I was always able to take NSAIDs.

But... severe period pain is not normal! I realise in your case it might be a temporary thing related to the medication, but for other people posting/reading: please be aware that agonising period pain is a key symptom of endometriosis.

I am amazed that it took me until I was 30 to learn this - doctors certainly never mentioned it - so I always make sure to tell other people.
posted by 8k at 4:26 PM on August 16, 2010

While this might not help if you're alone, there was a two-person massage that was printed in Our Bodies Ourselves that my ex-wife swore by. Woman lies on her stomach on the floor or a blanket on the floor with her shirt up a little and no pants (underwear is OK). Partner, barefoot stands to one side at lower back level facing her feet. Partner puts closest foot with heel on lower back and toes over pelvic cradle and gently rocks the pelvic cradle towards her feet and back to neutral. Switch sides every minute or so.
posted by plinth at 4:40 PM on August 16, 2010

What works for me: heating pad, or those sticky heating pads you can get at the drug store.

Also, I recently discovered that simply lying on my stomach for awhile does wonders.
posted by statolith at 4:48 PM on August 16, 2010

Severe cramping was how I discovered my fibroid issue. I'm scheduled for surgergy next month. Glad you have plans to see a doctor.

Honestly, when my pain is at its worst, a hot bath, a shot of Pyrat rum and my bed are all that works.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:51 PM on August 16, 2010

I get period pain that is so bad that I can't stand up straight, which has gotten much better since I had my fibroids removed. Without NSAIDs, the only things that work for me are muscle relaxers, and occasionally a stiff drink. I'd caution against drinking a lot while taking Tylenol, though, as the combo can damage your liver. However, a hot toddy and a few of those stick-on heating pads probably won't hurt.

I'd nth the recommendation of calling your doctor and telling them how severe the pain is - perhaps they can call in a prescription for a couple of days' worth of muscle relaxers to help you through this if you can't get in for an appointment.
posted by bedhead at 5:01 PM on August 16, 2010

I find a hot water bottle to be waaaay more soothing and nice-feeling than a heating pad. YMMV!
posted by hansbrough at 5:04 PM on August 16, 2010

The only thing that touches my cramps, when I have them, is two good beers. I don't know why, but it works.

Half of a good lager or Belgian ale really helps me, as I discovered by accident. Heating pad works best with some weight on it (I often use my laptop for the heat + weight when I don't want to bother digging out the heating pad). Light exercise also really helps, even if I think I'd rather not get off the couch ever.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:06 PM on August 16, 2010

DO NOT COMBINE Tylenol (acetaminophen) with alcohol. I cannot even believe people came in here to suggest that. Also, do not exceed 4 grams (or eight 500mg pills) in a 24 hour period. I even heard that from the pharmacist tonight (with great emphasis) when I was filling a percocet with acetaminophen prescription (I have a lovely kidney stone).

Over the last year I've been having really bad period cramps and heavy bleeding and I incidentally found out last night that I have an ovarian cyst when I received a cat scan for my severe abdominal pain. The cyst isn't what was causing the pain last night though. The ER doc said that they are very common but I'm still scheduling a visit with an OBGYN soon.

Anyway, as far as pain management, the only thing that really helps me is a relaxing hot bath, laying on a heating pad or the following which someone mentioned upthread:

"My extremely-crampy friend who is a midwife has this semi-gross advice for you: "when you go to pee, bear down hard (like pushing) a few times while you are seated in the bathroom, it helps release tissue and lets you control the muscles involved in a way you might not be able to otherwise"."

If I'm having a particularly horrible cramp, I go to the toilet and pass a huge chunk of tissue and then my pain is alleviated a little bit.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:18 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I found magnesium tablets really helped.

Also vitamin D.

Can you take Ponstan (Mefenamic Acid)? It's over the counter in Australia, not sure about the US. I found this really helpful for period cramps.

Also, can you take a painkiller with codeine (eg paracetemol + codeine)? Paracetemol alone isn't strong enough for really, really painful period cramps.
posted by Year of meteors at 5:30 PM on August 16, 2010

Have you ever been checked for endometriosis? (sp?) My niece had terrible cramps and it turned out this was what was causing it. If it is your medication, do speak to your doctor about it. You should not have to suffer like this.
posted by mermayd at 6:08 PM on August 16, 2010

I find a hot water bottle to the belly helps more than a heating pad- maybe it's the weight plus the moist heat. If you don't have a real hot water bottle, you can put hot water in a normal water bottle- maybe transfer your mouthwash into another container and use that flask-shaped mouthwash bottle, filled hot from the tap.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:09 PM on August 16, 2010

I've tried breathing exercises similar to the Lamaze method when I've had hellish cramps, and I've had great success with it. Also, that yoga pose mentioned above (child's pose) does the trick for me as well. Good luck; I've felt your pain, and it totally blows. Sorry. Feel better soon!
posted by heyho at 6:16 PM on August 16, 2010

Pot. Swore by it in college.
posted by troublewithwolves at 7:05 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

It might seem random but: are you regular with your periods?
I used to have terrible dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain) along with extreme flow of blood and even mild fever on my first period days, and I got periods at quite random interval of times.

My father who's a physician had me start up on anovulants (the contraceptive pill). Seems a huge part of my problem was hormonal in nature, and taking the pill made my periods almost painless (at least compared to my double-over-with-pain past ones), lowered my blood losses and made me regular. (It also helped my acne)

I don't quite know your medical/religious/insurance status nor if you are already on the pill but I would greatly recommend you looking into it or asking your physician for more information.

Good luck.
posted by CelebrenIthil at 7:11 PM on August 16, 2010

I feel your pain. I had some horrible cramps back in late May/early June that resulted in me crying and crying in pain. Some people had really good advice for me. I think it depends on taking the meds as soon as you have an inkling of cramps. Can you go to a MinuteClinic for a scrip?
posted by anniecat at 8:21 PM on August 16, 2010

Can you take Valerian? It's great for cramps and very calming. Get the tincture at your local health food store - it has saved my life.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:49 PM on August 16, 2010

Head for the hills. I'm serious. My cramps were so severe as a teenager in FL that I would vow (while doubled over in pain sitting on the toilet for hours) that I would kill myself before the next month came around to avoid the misery.

Then, I spent a summer waiting tables in the NC mountains and for three months I was almost pain-free. After a few more years, I noticed that whenever I was at higher elevations (above say, 2000 ft) during my period, my cramps were much less painful. The closer to sea level I got, the worse the cramps were. I have no scientific data to back this up but I know without a doubt, that for me anyway, there was a definite correlation. If you are anywhere near some mountains, take a day trip or longer if you can - sure beats heating pads and curling up in a ball.

And, if/when you are able to medicate again, naproxen (aleve) taken BEFORE and then during your period should help a lot. It is a prostaglandin inhibitor and it is primarily the production of prostaglandins that cause all that painful cramping. 500mg tablets were prescribed to me (before they became available OTC) and were a godsend.

I know what you're going through and wish you quick relief.
posted by ourroute at 9:18 PM on August 16, 2010

Here are some things that helped me:

1. Using pads instead of tampons.

2. Yoga: Child's Pose helps everything, but for menstrual cramps I've always relied on Goddess Pose (the reclining version seen on this page).

3. Being on the pill.

4. Oregano tea. I lived in Mexico for a bit with a family who relied on garden herbs as medicine. Oregano tea was the prescription for cramps. It really worked. Of course, you'll want to research any possible side effects or contraindications with your medication, IANAD, YMMV, etc.

5. Alternating between using a heating pad on my abdomen/lower back and lying face down on a cool tile floor.
posted by Majorita at 9:35 PM on August 16, 2010

Sometimes just focusing on the crampy area itself really helps me. Clench the muscles as hard as you can for ten seconds and then release. Also, stretch out almost backbend-style and find a trigger point and massage the hell out of it - like really dig in there. Finally, antacids are surprisingly helpful. This might be partly because 14 years of monthly megadoses of ibuprofen have murdered my stomach, but menstruation wreaks havok with my digestive system and a few tums help a lot (I prefer alka-seltzer actually but I believe it contains aspirin.).
posted by granted at 11:49 PM on August 16, 2010

Cannabis works very well for this.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:43 AM on August 17, 2010

I have friends who swear by raspberry leaf tea for cramps, but YMMV - I'd suggest seeing an herbalist, though, as well as a nutritionist if you can (diet affects my cramps in a big way). Something that has worked for me, strictly on an "immediate pain relief" basis, is having my partner massage my chest and lower back, specifically moving their hands in small, circular motions. Also, for the first day or so of my period, using any kind of tampon or cup makes my cramps a LOT worse, so perhaps avoid those if you can.

Definitely talk to your doctor, though. My cramps get so bad sometimes that I can't walk - turns out I have endometriosis. A friend recently had similarly bad cramps, and when she saw a doctor she was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovaries. Everyone experiences cramps differently, but my experience is that more often than not really severe cramps are a red flag.
posted by ellehumour at 9:34 AM on August 17, 2010

I've had good luck with hot stone massage when I'm having nasty cramps. It doesn't work forever, but it takes the edge off for a few hours at least. Keep in mind though, some women I know cannot STAND the thought of being touched while they are on their period. I guess you'd know if you're the same way.
posted by purpletangerine at 11:14 AM on August 17, 2010

I've seen, in person, raspberry leaf tea work some serious magic. If I recall, this was from freshly picked raspberry leaves which may not be an option for you. But it can't hurt to try a store-bought variety.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:53 AM on August 17, 2010

I like those hand held back massagers with a heat setting applied to wherever hurts. Also, pepto tablets help me with the nausea. I like the upward dog pose to really stretch out my lower abs.
posted by explcurve at 1:46 PM on August 17, 2010

Thirding or fourthing raspberry leaf tea.
posted by carlh at 7:34 PM on August 17, 2010

Hot baths do the trick for me. And, hate to say it, chocolate.
posted by bq at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2010

Tincture of Motherwort. It's a liquid extract you can get at any health/natural food store. Look up Susun Weed's videos about it on YouTube and check out her web site.
posted by jardinier at 11:09 AM on August 19, 2010

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