Menstrual Cramps: Symptoms & Pain Relief

By Med-Fit Content Team  .  Last Updated Thursday, 1st June 2023

Period Pains are a common and normal occurrence during a woman's menstrual cycle. However, when these cramps become extremely intense and painful, they are given a medical term called dysmenorrhea, recognized even by doctors.

According to various obstetricians and gynecologists' associations, over half of menstruating women report experiencing some level of pain from period cramps every month.

If you are reading this, chances are you are familiar with period cramps, particularly the uterine cramps that occur prior to the start of your period. These cramps are typically felt in the abdomen, thighs, or back. It is also possible to experience pain during ovulation or at other times throughout the menstrual cycle.

In most cases, menstrual cramps are nothing to be overly concerned about. However, if the pain becomes severe or excessively intense, it could be a symptom of underlying medical conditions such as endometriosis or adenomyosis. Unfortunately, severe period pain is often disregarded or not adequately addressed compared to male pain issues. It is important to note that many young women suffer from severe menstrual pain but may choose not to discuss it with their doctor.

Why are Periods Painful?

Dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, is believed to be caused by prostaglandins, a specific compound that increases in the lining of the uterus once a menstrual cycle begins.

The levels of prostaglandins are typically highest around the first day of the menstrual period, which is likely why the pain is often most severe during this time.

Prostaglandins are a key focus when studying dysmenorrhea because as the menstrual period progresses, the levels of this compound begin to decrease, resulting in a reduction in pain.

Can Painful Period Cramps be a sign of something else?

Period pains or cramps are generally considered a normal part of the menstrual cycle and do not usually require concern. However, certain symptoms may be associated with underlying medical conditions in women.

Each woman's experience with period cramps can vary, but typically, the level of pain or discomfort remains consistent from one month to the next. While some women may experience mild and easily manageable pain, others may endure intense pain. In such cases, it is natural to question whether the level of pain is normal or not.

Some women do suffer from:

  • Uterine Fibroids – this medical condition is a noncancerous growth that emerges inside the uterine walls. This growth can range in size from one tiny speck to several masses.

  • Endometriosis – This type of condition is quite regular in women of younger ages. This usually occurs when tissue that normally line the inside of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, often sticking to the ovaries, bowels and bladder.

  • Adenomyosis – This condition is when the tissue that usually lines the uterus begins to grow within the organs muscle walls.

  • PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is also very regular amongst younger women. This happens when you have heavy bleeding and clotting along with severe period pain, not the best of mixes. Other symptoms of PCOS can be even more specific, such as: Fertility problems, excess facial hair, oily skin, acne, weight gain and irregular periods.

  • Other Things – Secondary Dysmenorrhoea include ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, STI’s and tumours. Secondary Dysmenorrhoea can be in fact caused by PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).

How do I relieve my Period Cramps?

When your periods become irregular, excessively painful, or unusually heavy, it is important to prioritize finding suitable pain relief or seeking treatment for the sake of your health. However, it's worth noting that while there are various treatments available, not all of them may effectively alleviate your pain.

Most methods of cramp or period pain relief do at least one of the following, or most of them at once:

  • Block Pain
  • Reduce Inflammation
  • Treating underlying health conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS
  • Limit Prostaglandin Production

Methods you may like to try:

  • Tens Machines – Depending on the machine, they can help reduce inflammation, block pain and come with many more added benefits.
    Types of Tens Machines we recommend, 2 of our most popular products amongst women:
    1. Wireless Tens Machines 
    2. Dual Channel Tens Machines 
  • Medication (subscribed by your doctor) - it's likely your doctor will prescribe you naproxen or codeine if other painkillers do not work. 
  • Supplements - such as: Starflower Oil, Omega 3, Magnesium, Vitamin B12.
  • Diet Changes
  • Regular Exercising

Treatments for period pain traditionally involve over the counter drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and other possible pain killers. These pills can sometimes have side effects such as ulcers and other possible effects like allergic reactions. This is a possible reason why Tens Machines are becoming more popular amongst women.

Primary Dysmenorrhea is the common form of menstrual cramps (period cramps). It is caused by a specific substance called prostaglandin, which is made by cells in the inner lining of the uterus. Too much prostaglandin causes a much more painful menstruation – more of this causes nausea, headaches and vomiting.

Secondary Dysmenorrhea is a little less common, compared to the one above. It usually occurs after a woman has already had usual menstrual cycles for a while. The way secondary Dysmenorrhea is caused is by an abnormality or infection of the uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes. The general pain, although incredibly similar to menstrual cramps, lasts a little long and can even occur at other stages throughout the menstrual cycle.

How does a Tens help with period pain?

Tens Machine devices are the ideal treatment for painful menstruation, especially if you would rather pass on the pain killers. The way the machines work is by sending a soothing pulse / electrical current via the pads through the skin and along the nerve fibres.

The Tens Device begins to suppress the pain signals, and the body begins to produce higher levels of its very own natural pain killing chemical – endorphins and enkephalins. The soothing pulses help with Period cramp relief and period pain relief.  

High Frequency TENS & Primary Dysmenorrhea

A recent study performed a randomized clinical trial of 32 women with primary dysmenorrhea. The subjects were treated with:

  • Conventional Tens Machines for two cycles
  • Placebo Tens Machines for one cycle, or ibuprofen 400 mg four times a day for one cycle.

As a form of rescue medication, Ibuprofen 400 mg was used to relieve pain. The investigators and subjects were blinded to whether “real” or sham Tens devices were used throughout the entire investigation/trial.

Results showed that Tens Machines alone provided good to excellent subjective period pain relief in 42.4% of patients compared with 3.2% in the placebo Tens units, and the “real” TENS group also had significantly reduced clot formation, diarrhoea, menstrual flow, and fatigue compared to those who used the placebo Tens units.

With Tens Machine therapy, 1/3 of the subjects did not require any sort of supplemental pain medication throughout the investigation. In those that did require backup (the rescue dose of ibuprofen) - the doses needed were significantly lower than those in placebo TENS cycles or cycles treated with ibuprofen alone.

TENS and Period Cramps

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines are commonly used and approved for treating menstrual cramps. TENS machines are devices, either wired or wireless, that generate low-voltage electrical currents. These currents are designed to provide pain relief through the use of gentle electrical stimulation.

To deliver the electrical currents, specially designed electrodes, also known as sticky pads, are attached to the skin. These electrodes are connected to the TENS machine either through wires or via Bluetooth for wireless models. The machine then transmits the electrical currents through the electrodes, helping to alleviate pain.