The Everything Guide To Cramps

Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
By Kendall McKenzie
Though they’re everyone’s favorite excuse to get out of gym class, people who frequently suffer from menstrual cramps know those stabby aches are no joke.
Cramps happen when your uterus contracts and spasms to shed its lining, which then flows out of your body during menstruation. Cramps are basically your body’s way of kicking Aunt Flo out like a mean bouncer, which is why you get ‘em before and during your period.
Most people who get periods deal with cramps at some point in their lives. For some women, they’re a mild annoyance, for others, a monthly nightmare. Luckily, they tend to become milder as we get older, but nobody should have to sit on life’s sidelines because of a misbehaving uterus. Here’s how to keep your period from cramping your style.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Hot Baths, Heating Pads, & Self-Care
When you’re in pain and feeling yucky, rest and relaxation are important. A crampy period is the perfect time for a little "me" time, so make self-care a priority. Heat can soothe a crampy belly (and feels so damn good, especially in chilly weather), so try heating pads, hot water bottles, or warm baths to relax a uterus in revolt.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Over-The-Counter Pain Medications
Over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin are all tried-and-true treatments to help you shut down cramps and get on with your life. Just make sure you follow the directions on the bottle, and don’t take more than the recommended dose. If your cramps are so bad that these medications don’t help, talk with your doctor about other ways to safely manage the pain.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
For many of us (myself included), the idea of working out while crampy sounds like a one-way trip to hell. But, it’s perfectly safe to exercise the way you normally do during your period, and a little bit of physical activity can actually calm your rioting nethers. Walking, running, yoga, swimming, dancing, and plain ol’ stretching are period favorites, but anything you like to do that gets your body moving works just fine. Exercise also releases endorphins (natural feel-good brain chemicals) — one more reason not to skip your workout sesh.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Birth Control
Birth control not only prevents pregnancy; certain kinds also prevent cramps. Hormonal birth control methods like the Mirena or Skyla IUD, implant, shot, pill, patch, or ring can help with painful cramping, and they may also regulate, lighten, or even eliminate your period. These birth control methods are so good at dealing with bummer periods that many people take them exclusively for this reason. Contact your local Planned Parenthood health center to find a method that can help make your period a breeze.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
In a true example of how Mother Nature both giveth and taketh away, having an orgasm or two is one of the more enjoyable ways to help calm down cramps. The big O provides big relief by flooding your body with endorphins, helping you to relax and release tension.

Don’t worry if you’re partner-free or if period sex isn’t your thing; masturbation, outercourse, and anything that brings the thunder down under applies — your cramps don’t know the difference. Just make sure you’re protecting yourself against pregnancy and/or STDs if you’ve got a partner helping.
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Alternative Treatments
While we recommend sticking to treatments that have been widely studied and proven to be safe and effective, some people discover alternative ways to ease cramps. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that acupuncture has been shown to be somewhat effective in helping with cramps. And, there’s some evidence that supplements like vitamin B1 or magnesium may help, but there’s not enough research to prove they work. People who have to deal with cramps know any little thing that soothes the pain feels like a miracle, but you should always talk with your doctor before starting alternative treatments.

And, if you’ve tried everything and you’re still not getting enough relief and/or your cramps frequently keep you from doing everyday activities, talk to your doctor to make sure there’s not a more serious issue going on — very rarely, severe cramps could be a sign of health problems like endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease.