01 Sep Complementary therapies for heavy or painful periods
Heavy menstrual bleeding is extremely common, affecting up to 1 in 3 women. It can lead to cramps, pelvic pain and even headaches. In the long term, loss of iron stores in the body leads to generalised fatigue. These symptoms accumulate and result in personal, emotional, financial and social burdens that plague not only the individual woman, but also her partner, family, work and social networks. There are a number of reasons for heavy periods. While many are benign, it can also be an indication of something more sinister. It is, therefore, essential to see your local doctor or gynaecologist for a careful assessment.
Surgical treatments are often recommended if there is anatomical cause of heavy or painful periods such as a uterine fibroid, polyp, endometriosis or adenomyosis. Non-hormonal or hormonal medications are prescribed if there is no anatomical cause found, or as a longer term therapy following surgery. There may be more than one reason for heavy periods and pain in the same woman. There are many simple therapies women can use to help alleviate associated symptoms of heavy and painful periods
There is some evidence high frequency TENS help relieve painful periods. There are many different brands of TENS machines found online or in pharmacies. Online reviews or word of mouth recommendations can help you decide which TENS machine to try.
There is also some evidence that acupuncture can help reduce period pain. Most acupuncturists offer women treatment of period pain. Again, word of mouth is a good start to find a practitioner who can help you.
Using heat – either from heat packs on the abdomen and back, or taking warm baths can help relax the muscle and relieve pain. It can also be relaxing by reducing stress related to pain.
A relaxation technique such as meditation can help alleviate pain by soothing the mind. Seeing a therapist or psychologist to help with meditation techniques may be a helpful start.
There is no universal recommendation for diet in women with pelvic pain or heavy bleeding. One approach to consider is removing things from usual diet, see if you feel better, reintroduce them back and see how you feel then. This trial and error approach is totally under your control. Dietary groups that may be removed include FODMAPs and inflammatory food. Involving a dietician in this journey can help ease the complexities of different diets.
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols) are found in a wide range of foods including dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and confectionery. Removing or reducing these may help with pain in women with irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis. However, it is difficult to continue this diet in the long term as the list of associated foods is long. You can try reintroducing those that don’t affect your symptoms.
Certain foods are inflammatory and others are anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory foods include food high in Omega 3 oils such as fish, seafood and some seeds. Green leafy vegetables also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammatory foods include red meats, dairy and processed foods. Inflammation may be associated with worse pain. Inflammatory foods are also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Vitamins and minerals
Iron intake and replacement is especially important in women who lose iron through their heavy periods. Red meats are main source of iron. If you are cutting down on red meat, dietary iron can also be found in dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Vitamins B1, E and magnesium have all been associated with reduction in painful periods.
Gentle exercise and keeping the body moving may help relieve pain through release of endorphins. Endorphins are the feel good hormone. Pelvic pain may arise not only from the bleeding uterus and associated inflammation, but also the pelvic floor muscles that carry the pelvic organs. When these muscles naturally tense up, it can lead to pelvic pain. Gentle exercises to relieve pelvic floor muscle tension can help reduce pelvic pain. Doing these pelvic floor exercises under the guidance of specialised pelvic floor physiotherapists can make a major positive impact on managing pain in the long term.
While there is no evidence in randomised controlled trials (the gold standard research evaluating the effectiveness and safety of any therapy) to support these measures, they should not be ruled out if women feel they could be beneficial to overall symptom management and quality of life. They can also be complementary to traditional therapies mentioned earlier.