Have you ever missed work or school because of period cramps? You’re not alone. About 80% of people who have periods will experience period pain at some point in their lives. Period pain is most often felt as muscle cramps or spasms in your lower tummy, but it can also spread to your back and thighs.
You may also have headaches, nausea, bloating and tiredness when you’re on your period. But if you have severe period pain, or your period is heavier or more irregular than usual, it’s worth seeing a doctor.
Keep reading to learn about the science behind period pain and back pain, and some of the best ways to treat it.
What is period pain?
Your period is the time during your menstrual cycle when you bleed from your vagina for a few days. Period pain (also called menstrual cramps or pain) is pain that you may get a few days before, during or after your period. The pain is usually in your tummy, and can spread to your thighs and back. Sometimes the pain can come in short, sharp bursts, and at other times it may be dull but constant.
The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhoea and there are 2 types:
- primary – period pain that isn't caused by a specific condition. It’s thought to be caused by the tightening of the muscles of the womb
- secondary – period pain that’s caused by an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease
Why do I have back pain during my period?
During your period, the muscular walls of your womb tighten, and this can temporarily stop oxygen getting to your womb. When this happens, your womb releases chemicals that make you feel pain. Usually, you feel this as cramps in your tummy, but the pain can also spread to your back.
If period pain in your lower back is severe, it might be a sign of a more serious condition called endometriosis. This is where the tissue that lines the womb grows in other parts of the body. If you think you might have endometriosis, speak to your doctor.
8 ways to relieve period-related back pain
Period pain is usually mild enough to treat at home. Here are some popular methods for relieving back pain during your period.
It might feel uncomfortable at first, but gentle exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming can help with both lower back pain and period pain.
2. Applying heat or having a warm bath
Using a heated pad or hot water bottle on your back or tummy, or having a warm bath, can provide some relief and help you relax. If you are using a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel so you don’t burn yourself.
A light massage around your lower back may help to reduce your pain.You can even massage yourself – just don’t apply too much pressure.
4. Relaxation techniques
Relaxing activities such as breathing exercises, Pilates and yoga help to distract you from pain. And Pilates and yoga are also useful for period pain because they provide the benefits of physical exercise.
5. Stopping smoking
Smoking is thought to increase the risk of period pain, so quitting might be a good idea. Plus, stopping smoking has many other health benefits.
6. Simple painkillers
Simple painkillers, like ibuprofen, can help with period-related pain, but they’re not suitable for everyone. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist for advice on the best painkillers for your period-related back pain. And make sure you read the leaflet carefully before taking painkillers.
7. The contraceptive pill or injection
Contraceptives can ease period pain because they thin the lining of the womb – which means the womb’s muscles don’t have to contract as much. Your period will also be lighter. You can speak to a doctor about options that might suit you.
8. Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS)
A TENS machine is a small device that runs on batteries and sends a mild electrical current to the area where you feel pain. It helps to reduce pain by reducing or blocking the pain signals that travel to your brain. You can find TENS machines at your local pharmacy.
These are just some of many ways to help relieve period pain. You may also find some relief by trying natural remedies for period-related back pain.
When to see a doctor
It’s important to understand when to seek help for period pain.
You should speak to a doctor about your period pain if:
- the pain is severe and prevents you from doing your usual activities
- you notice changes, such as heavier bleeding, more pain, pain that lasts longer than usual, or a change to your normal cycle
Back pain can also be serious, so it’s worth reading about when to see a doctor about back pain.
If you have back pain and any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor urgently:
- numbness around your bottom or genitals – sometimes this is just tingling
- trouble peeing, or loss of control of peeing or pooing
- losing weight for no reason
- swelling or a change to the shape of your back
- pain that’s worse at night
- pain that’s not improved by resting
- pain after a serious accident
- pain that’s made worse by sneezing or pooing
- pain from the top of your back
- period pain can be a dull or sharp, is usually felt around the tummy and can spread to the back and thighs
- there are a number of things you can try to ease period-related back pain, including exercise, applying heat and light massage
- medical treatments for back pain during your period include simple painkillers, contraceptives and TENS