5 Home Remedies to Ease Menstrual Cramps

Woman lying on couch with heating pad on abdomen

Getty Images / Marian Vejcik Slovcar

Menstrual cramps are a common complaint among those of reproductive ages—early teens through mid-40s. Often accompanied by body aches and dull, painful sensations in the lower abdomen/pelvis or lower back on days surrounding a woman's monthly period, menstrual cramps are an inconvenient (and uncomfortable!) reality.

Epidemiologic studies have found that between 16% and 91% of reproductive-aged women experience these cramps. Between 2% and 29% of the individuals studied reported experiencing menstrual cramps on a severe level, meaning their pain could be described as "intense" as they were cramping.

What Causes Menstrual Cramps?

The physical reason for cramping is due to the uterus contracting while shedding its lining; prostaglandin release is what causes these contractions. There are several risk factors of dysmenorrhea (the technical term for menstrual cramps), some of which can be addressed by altering lifestyle habits.

"Lifestyle changes can help. These include exercise, using heat pads, lower caffeine, and limiting alcohol intake," says Dr. Zaher Merhi, OBGYN, MD, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist, and a fertility expert at Rejuvenating Fertility Center

Aside from reducing your risks through lifestyle modifications, some additional home remedies may help relieve symptoms.

Herbal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps

Some herbal remedies have been shown through scientific research to be effective for menstrual pain relief. Specifically, herbs have the ability to regulate or modify prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins have hormone-like effects that cause cramping. If you have higher levels of prostaglandins, you may experience more intense cramping. Some herbs may be able to inhibit prostaglandin release. It's worth noting that over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen also work in this way.

Other herbal remedies have been studied for general pain relief and may also help with menstrual cramps. Below are some herbs to try.

Ginger

Ginger is thought to ease menstrual cramping by relieving inflammation and prostaglandin production. Some research has shown that ginger supplementation provided pain relief on par with over-the-counter pain relief medication.

Additional research has shown that 750 to 2000 milligrams of ginger root powder taken for five days can provide menstrual pain relief better than a placebo, which is a non-active treatment used in studies to test the effectiveness of the actual medicinal ingredient.

Ginger can act similar to a blood thinner. If you have a bleeding disorder or take medications affecting your blood, consult your doctor before taking ginger. It also shouldn't be taken two weeks before surgery.

Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex)

Chaste tree berry contains flavonoids that are believed to impact hormone levels such as prolactin, progesterone, and estrogen. This herb has been used for hundreds of years as a treatment for menstrual problems including cramping. Chaste tree berry can be found in capsule form.

Chaste tree berry may influence progesterone and estrogen levels in your body so if you have a hormone-related condition such as breast cancer, you should avoid chaste tree berry.

Skullcap and Black Cohosh

Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) and black cohosh are thought to be anti-spasmodic, meaning they may reduce the spasms that cause painful cramping sensations in the uterus. Some research supports their use but more is needed to say for certain if skullcap and black cohosh are effective.

Skullcap is also considered anti-inflammatory and stress-relieving, both effects that may also help reduce menstrual cramps.

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) may influence hormones and has been used to treat premenstrual symptoms, including cramps, throughout history. You can find skullcap and black cohosh in capsule or tincture form.

Do not take skullcap or black cohosh if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a hormone-sensitive cancer without first discussing it with a healthcare provider.

Micronutrients That May Ease Menstrual Cramps

Certain micronutrients may help to relieve or prevent menstrual cramps.

Zinc

Zinc has been shown in studies to help relieve the duration and intensity of menstrual cramps. Researchers believe that zinc can help improve circulation and blood flow and reduce inflammation, relieving cramping.

Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, baked beans, fortified breakfast cereal, chicken, and pumpkin seeds, among others.

Calcium and Magnesium

A combination of calcium and magnesium has been shown to reduce menstrual cramps better than a placebo. The study used a combination of 600 milligrams of calcium carbonate and 300 milligrams of magnesium stearate.

Low calcium levels can cause an increase in uterine muscle contractions, leading to pain after decreased uterine blood flow. Calcium and magnesium are often found in combination in supplement form.

You can also increase your consumption of calcium-rich foods like yogurt and cheese as well as magnesium-rich foods such as almonds, avocados, and brazil nuts.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, especially when also combined with calcium, has been shown to relieve menstrual cramps. Higher vitamin D intake can reduce the severity of dysmenorrhea. Vitamin D can be found in supplement form, or in foods such as fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms, or obtained through exposure to sunlight.

One study tested the effectiveness of vitamin D, vitamin E, and ginger separately. All three significantly reduced the severity of menstrual cramps and pain, with ginger being the most effective, followed by vitamin D and vitamin E. 

Heat Therapy for Menstrual Cramps

Heat therapy can be soothing and effective for menstrual cramp relief as well as helping to relieve stress. Try a warm bath or use a heating pad on your abdomen or low back. Heat can increase blood flow and decrease tension, helping to relax the muscles of the uterus.

A simple heat pack can be made by adding rice to a sock and warming it in the microwave. Just make sure it's not too hot.

Self Massage and Acupressure for Menstrual Cramps

Both self-massage and self-applied acupressure are effective for relieving menstrual cramps and pain. Massage can increase blood flow while reducing sensations of pain and fatigue and stimulating endorphins that help relax, reduce tension and stress.

Acupressure and massage should never be painful, and you should be careful of sensitive or fragile areas. Do not perform these methods if you are pregnant or have any health conditions such as diabetes or cancer without discussing it with your doctor.

Adding aromatherapy to your self-massage may increase the effectiveness. Research has shown a reduction in excessive bleeding when aromatherapy is used when compared to massage with almond oil alone. Try cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender oils.

Exercise for Menstrual Cramps

Research has consistently shown that exercise can also improve the severity of menstrual cramps better than many other interventions. For instance, one study compared the effectiveness of self-care methods, including acupressure, heat, and exercise.

The conclusion was that exercise was the most effective, with "large effects" on reducing cramping and pain.

Acupressure and heat showed moderate effects, and so are both viable methods of relief as well. Combining all three self-care methods of menstrual cramp relief is an excellent choice. Try gentle forms of exercise like swimming, walking, and yoga.

When to See a Doctor

According to Merhi, a woman should see a doctor if she has severe and intolerable cramping pain in the lower abdomen that starts a few days before her period, that gets worse after the onset of the period, and subsides in several days.

"The pain could be dull and continuous and could radiate to the lower back and thighs. It can also be associated with nausea, vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea. It could also be associated with painful intercourse. All these symptoms could happen, and when it disrupts a woman's daily activities and sex life, then she should see a doctor immediately," explains Merhi. 

A Word From Verywell

Any persistent pain that interferes with your daily functioning should be discussed with your doctor. There could be an underlying cause that needs medical treatment.

For mild cases of menstrual cramping without underlying causes, there are plenty of options for helping treat it. Try a variety of methods to see what works best for you.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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