Over half of women who menstruate experience period pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, for one to two days every month. And even though period pain can mean headaches or general discomfort, the pain is typically caused by menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps happen when your uterus contracts to shed its lining, also known as the uterine lining. This can cause pain in your stomach, lower back, groin or upper thighs. Previously, we talked about when it makes sense to see a doctor for menstrual cramps. Here, we’ll go over 13 home remedies you can try to help relieve menstrual cramps, and what might be causing your period pain.

13 things you can do at home to relieve period cramps

Maybe you, like 90% of menstruating women, experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when you’re about to get your period. Cramps, irritability and fatigue – dealing with these and other period symptoms every month can be as frustrating as they are painful.

The good news is there are many remedies you can do at home (and on the go) that might help you relieve period cramps and other period symptoms. It’s important to remember that these techniques won’t always work, especially for chronic conditions like endometriosis, but they can offer relief for mild to moderate period pain.

1. Drink more water to reduce bloating

A few days before your period begins, and maybe even during your period, you may feel like your stomach or other parts of your body are swollen, or that you’ve gained weight. This is due to water retention, or bloating. Bloating is a normal and common period symptom, but it can cause discomfort and make menstrual cramps worse.

While it may sound counterintuitive, drinking water regularly throughout the day can help reduce bloating during your period and alleviate some of the pain it causes. Try carrying a water bottle around with you and fill it up several times during the day. How much water each person should drink can vary, but a good goal is to drink at least eight, 8-oz. glasses of water per day. Also, drinking hot water can increase blood flow throughout your body and relax your muscles. This can lessen cramps caused by uterine contractions.

Certain types of herbal tea have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce bloating and inflammation, and antispasmodic compounds that can reduce the muscle spasms in the uterus that cause cramping. Drinking cinnamon, lemon, dandelion and hibiscus teas can help with bloating. Raspberry leaf, chamomile, thyme and oolong teas can help relieve menstrual cramps. And ginger, peppermint and green teas can help with both. Plus, these herbal teas can have other benefits, like stress relief and helping with insomnia.

3. Eat anti-inflammatory foods to ease menstrual cramps

Some foods can offer natural relief for cramps, and they taste great. Anti-inflammatory foods can help promote blood flow and relax your uterus. Try eating berries, tomatoes, pineapple and spices like turmeric, ginger or garlic. Leafy green vegetables, almonds, walnuts and fatty fish, like salmon, can also help reduce inflammation.

4. Skip the treats to avoid extra bloating and pain

While a brownie or french fries might sound delicious, foods high in sugar, trans fat and salt can cause bloating and inflammation, which makes muscle pain and cramps worse. So, try to avoid or reduce how much red meat, high fructose corn syrup, highly processed foods and foods with added oils you’re eating. Instead, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and unsalted nuts and seeds.

5. Drink decaf coffee to improve period pain

Caffeine causes your blood vessels to narrow. This can constrict your uterus, making cramps more painful. If you need your coffee fix, switch to decaf during your period. If you rely on caffeine to beat the afternoon slump, eat a snack high in protein or take a quick 10-minute walk to boost your energy.

6. Try dietary supplements to help with menstrual symptoms

Vitamin D can help your body absorb calcium and reduce inflammation. Other supplements, including omega-3, vitamin E and magnesium, can help reduce inflammation and might even make your periods less painful. For best results, take supplements every day, not just during your period. Also, because some supplements interact with medications, be sure to ask your doctor before taking anything new.

7. Apply heat to calm cramping

A little heat can help your muscles relax, improve blood flow and relieve tension. Try sitting with a heating pad over your lower stomach, taking a hot shower or relaxing in a hot bath.

8. Exercise for muscle relaxation and endorphins

If you’re in pain, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. But even gentle exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happy, reduce pain and relax your muscles. Fifteen minutes of yoga, light stretching or walking might be all you need to feel better. And if exercise is already a part of your routine, did you know that tracking your period can help you improve athletic performance?

9. Reduce stress to improve mental and physical period symptoms

Stress may make cramps worse. Use stress relief techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga or your own favorite way to relieve stress. If you’re not sure how to relieve stress, try guided imagery. Simply close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine a calm, safe place that’s significant to you. Stay focused on this space for at least a few minutes while you take slow, deep breaths.

10. Try massage therapy to reduce cramping and stress

One study found that massage therapy significantly reduced menstrual pain in women with endometriosis. Massages may reduce uterine spasms by relaxing the uterus. In order to manage period cramps most effectively, massage therapy should focus on the abdominal area. But a full body massage that reduces your overall stress may also help to relieve menstrual cramps.

11. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to get rid of period cramps

The hormone prostaglandin can cause muscle contractions and pain. Anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can provide fast-acting relief by reducing the amount of prostaglandins in your body. OTC medicines may not always magically cure menstrual cramps, but they can often improve pain significantly. For best results, only take OTC medicines when you start to feel cramps. And remember, speak with your doctor if you’re not sure which OTC medication is best for you.

12. Try alternative medicine for PMS relief

Some people find relief with alternative medicine practices like acupuncture and acupressure. Acupuncture is a practice that stimulates the body by placing needles in the skin. Acupressure stimulates the body without needles by putting pressure on certain points of the body. These practices can help you relax, release muscle tension and improve blood flow throughout your body.

13. Start hormonal birth control

Birth control can stop period pain if cramps are caused by a hormone imbalance. Balancing your levels of estrogen and progesterone helps thin the uterine lining so it sheds more easily. Hormonal birth control also regulates the length and frequency of your period. Some forms of birth control can completely alleviate period cramps by stopping your period altogether. Talk to your OB-GYN about birth control options, including the pill, birth control shot or hormonal IUD. Then, you’ll be able to choose the type of birth control that works best for you.

Causes of severe period pain: What you should know

There can be many reasons for period pain, and if you experience chronic painful periods, it’s only natural to wonder why. Maybe you’re the only woman in your family who gets severe cramps. Maybe your painful periods didn’t start until your 20s. Some period pain is normal for most, but if your pain is very severe, it may be caused by an underlying condition.

Whatever your situation, a doctor can help you understand why you get painful cramps every month. Some of the most common causes of painful periods are:

Secondary dysmenorrhea (severe cramps)

These are different than run-of-the-mill period cramps. They’re more severe, and last longer, and can be an indicator of another health condition. If you think your level of pain before, during or after your period is unusually high, has changed from what it used to be, or you’re concerned about your symptoms, talk to your doctor about treatment options for painful cramps.

PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a more severe form of PMS that affects about 5% of menstruating women. Doctors aren’t sure what causes PMDD, but women with high levels of stress, depression or a family history of depression are more likely to experience it. Symptoms of PMDD are similar to PMS, but more intense, including more painful cramps.


Uterine fibroids are benign growths that may develop in the lining of the uterus. They can be so small that it’s impossible to see them with the naked eye, or big enough to change the shape of your uterus. They usually appear during childbearing years and often shrink or go away completely after menopause. Since fibroids grow in the uterine lining, they can cause heavy periods and painful menstrual cramps. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend uterine fibroid treatment.

Doctors can’t be sure who will develop uterine fibroids, but certain factors can increase one’s risk. These include age, African American ancestry, having a family history of fibroids and being overweight.

Ovarian cysts

A cyst is a usually harmless sac of fluid that forms in or on your body. Ovarian cysts develop in the ovaries, typically during ovulation. Many women develop at least one small cyst every month that naturally fades. However, some women have multiple or large ovarian cysts which can cause pain or complications. In these cases, medical treatment might be needed to manage the cysts.

Ovarian cysts can also be caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a condition where a hormone imbalance causes many small, harmless cysts to grow in the ovaries. This can cause painful periods, difficulty getting pregnant, insulin resistance and other health concerns. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, excess hair on the face and body, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, acne and thinning hair. A doctor can prescribe treatments to help manage PCOS symptoms.

PID (pelvic inflammatory disease)

When the uterus and ovaries become infected, this is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The infection usually begins when bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) makes its way to the reproductive organs. PID can also happen following a surgical procedure. While many women experience no symptoms of PID, it can cause painful cramps for some people.


The uterine lining, also known as the endometrium, grows inside the uterus. But if you have endometriosis, your endometrium grows outside the uterus, usually in other parts of your reproductive organs like the ovaries or fallopian tubes.

When your body tries to shed uterine tissue during your period, the endometrium growing outside the uterus has nowhere to go. It can become trapped in the body. This can cause painful cramps, heavy bleeding, irritation and inflammation. With advances in medicine, most cases of endometriosis can be well managed with medications and procedures.


Adenomyosis is a treatable condition where the endometrium grows into the muscle wall of the uterus. The endometrium can affect the entire uterus muscle, but it usually affects one spot. Adenomyosis is a manageable condition, but it can cause severe cramps. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes adenomyosis, but women who’ve had children or undergone uterine surgery have a higher risk of developing it.

Get help relieving period cramps

If you’ve tried all the at-home menstrual cramp treatments on this list and still have painful periods, or you want to know up front which options will work best for you, talk to your primary care doctor or OB-GYN.

At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our women’s health doctors can prescribe stronger treatments for menstrual cramps that can go a long way to improve your quality of life during that time of the month. A little help from a doctor might be the best way to stop dreading your periods.