Home Remedies for Period Cramps
Most women have experienced dysmenorrhea (pain associated with menstruation) of varying degrees at some point in their life. Dysmenorrhea can be divided into two categories, each having their own subset of signs, symptoms, and causes. These include primary dysmenorrhea, which is caused by natural chemicals in the uterus and secondary dysmenorrhea, which is often caused by a reproductive disorder.1,2
Primary dysmenorrhea is widely identified by cramping in the lower abdomen that can also spread to pain in the lower back, hips and legs.1 This usually occurs before or at the beginning of a woman’s period, and can last between 48 and 72 hours. The cramping is caused by prostaglandins, which are hormone-like natural chemicals made in the lining of the uterus and released during the menstrual cycle.2 Prostaglandins are linked to the contraction of the uterus, and subsequent pain. For women with severe cramping, higher levels of the hormone vasopressin are present, which cause the contractions to be even more painful.1 For many women, however, primary dysmenorrhea can improve with age, and may subside after giving birth.2
The signs of secondary dysmenorrhea include menstrual cramps that occur for much longer, and may even begin days before a woman’s period. It’s generally caused by a gynecologic disorder such as endometriosis; uterus tissues found outside of the uterus walls, adenomyosis; tissues growing in the muscle wall of the uterus, or uterine fibroids; growths outside, inside or within the walls of the uterus. These types of menstrual cramps can be extremely painful, and generally requires assessment from a health care provider.2
While dysmenorrhea is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder, it is not to be confused with premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. PMS is estimated to affect at least 20-50 % of women at a reproductive age and is determined by numerous factors, including irritability, mood swings, breast pain and headaches. The cause of PMS is speculative, but some theories include changing levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body, vitamin deficiency and other hormonal imbalances.3
Because the symptoms and causes of dysmenorrhea and premenstrual syndrome vary greatly, many women have difficulty finding relief for cramps, and require PMS help and management. Thankfully, natural remedies for menstrual cramps are available and are now proving to have a prominent effect in treating PMS, cramps and other menstrual symptoms. Essential Oil Experts has assembled the top 7 most effective essential oils for menstruation pain to reduce cramps during your monthly cycle.
Essential Oils for Cramps
When women experience the painful effects of menstrual cramps, remedies often seem limited to over the counter medications known for targeting symptoms of PMS, cramps and other symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin can alleviate pain, but should not be taken for longer than a couple of days. They can also cause unpleasant side effects, and are not safe for those suffering from any bleeding disorders, ulcers or certain allergies.
Not only are essential oils a natural and affordable option to address menstrual pain and PMS, but studies have shown how effective they can be to help with period cramps to reduce pain and discomfort. In 2012, a study in Korea found that aromatherapy massages using a combination of essential oils significantly reduced menstrual cramps in women after only the first day of treatment.4
Using essential oils for menstrual cramps can also provide therapeutic effects and relieve the anxiety and stress that often accompanies a woman on her menstrual cycle.
What Essential Oils are Good for Menstrual Cramps
Because over the counter NSAIDs are not viable long-term treatment for women suffering from menstrual cramps, essential oils may be an effective, alternative option. The following are the top essential oils good for menstrual cramps and may help alleviate symptoms of PMS. These essential oils for PMS, cramps and nausea can be used in conjunction with other pain relieving medication.
Lavender Essential Oil
The stress-relieving benefits of lavender essential oil are commonly used in aromatherapy for treating anxiety, sleep disorders and migraines. Due to its proven anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, lavender is one of the most effective essential oils for periods as it addresses many symptoms of menstrual pain.
A study in 2013 evaluated the use of lavender aromatherapy with seventeen women suffering from mild to moderate PMS symptoms. Researchers concluded that participants who inhaled lavender essential oil had decreased symptoms of depression, dejection and confusion, when compared to a control group.5 It was also noted that the scent of lavender essential oil improved activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. For women who suffer from anxiety during their period, lavender essential oil may promote relaxation and induce sleep.
To use lavender essential oil, add 2-4 drops into 2-3 cups of boiling water or a diffuser. Inhale for 30 minutes for relief of symptoms.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage essential oil’s benefits include natural menstrual relief, anti-anxiety properties and anti-depressant activity. Used in a massage oil, clary sage has also been proven to be a potent essential oil for cramps and relief of discomfort. In a 2012 clinical trial involving 48 women experiencing primary dysmenorrhea, an essential oil blend of clary sage, lavender and marjoram was massaged into the abdomen. All women who received the essential oil massage found relief 24 hours after the massage. Clary sageay be one of the best essential oils for menstrual cramps.
To use clary sage essential oils for pain reduction, dilute 5 drops of clary sage essential oil in 1 Tbsp. of jojoba or coconut oil. Gently rub the oil onto the abdomen for cramping relief.
Carrot Seed Essential Oil
Carrot seed essential oil’s benefits include sedative and anti-inflammatory properties. Known for promoting healthy hair and skin, it can also provide relief from stress. For women suffering from menstrual cramps or PMS, carrot seed essential oil can be incorporated into a natural PMS remedy to combat undesirable bloating and mood swings. For these reasons, carrot seed is among the top essential oils for period cramps.
To ease the effects of hormonal imbalances experienced during a woman’s menstrual cycle, mix 4 drops of carrot seed essential oil with 4 drops of lemon essential oil, 2 drops of geranium essential oil and 2 Tbsp. of jojoba or coconut oil. Massage in a circular motion to address discomfort in your abdomen.
Jasmine Essential Oil
Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, jasmine essential oil’s therapeutic properties have been used to alleviate symptoms of pain for centuries. It is often used in diffusers around the home for its fragrant scent, and in aromatherapy to address mood problems and anxiety. One of the best pain relieving essential oils for PMS, cramps and symptoms of fatigue, jasmine essential oil can be inhaled, used in a massage oil, or in a therapeutic bath.
Fatigue is a mood symptom of PMS that can affect many women in addition to painful muscle cramps. One study conducted in 2010, found that participants who applied jasmine essential oil on their abdomens experienced an increase in blood pressure and breathing rate, and consequently felt more energetic and improved their mood.
For a fragrant and energizing massage oil, add 1-2 drops of jasmine essential oil to 1 Tbsp. of jojoba or coconut oil. Massage over skin until absorbed, and apply when experiencing symptoms of fatigue.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil’s top benefits include anxiety relief and pain reduction. Commonly used in aromatherapy and massage for treatment of headaches, anxiety and congestion, peppermint essential oil is also widely used for bloating, indigestion, nausea and menstrual cramps.
In addition to reducing fatigue and improving memory, peppermint essential oil has also proven to alleviate headaches. A study from the journal Phytomedicine concluded that the analgesic properties in peppermint essential oil combined with its cooling sensation aided provided feelings of relief when applied to the body. When combined with eucalyptus oil, the blend had a muscle-relaxing effect on participants.
For relief of both headache pain and digestive pain, dilute peppermint oil in jojoba or coconut oil, apply 4-6 drops to your temple, avoiding the eyes, or to your abdomen, and massage until absorbed.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Two valuable qualities of frankincense essential oil are its sedative and anti-inflammatory properties. Frankincense is also one of the most powerful essential oils for heavy periods, and can be used by women experiencing the very uncomfortable sensation of breast tenderness during this time. It also addresses mood changes and may help lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Some women experience breast tenderness during their menstrual cycle. In a 2012 study, frankincense essential oil was noted to be particularly useful as a topical anti-inflammatory and helped soothe the affected areas.
For a natural pain relief remedy, add 2-4 drops of frankincense essential oil to 1 Tbsp. of jojoba or coconut oil and massage onto the areas of tenderness. Alternatively, add the same amount of frankincense essential oil to a warm bowl of water. Dip a clean cloth into this mixture, remove excess, and use as a compress.
Ginger Essential Oil
The benefits of ginger essential oil come from its energizing and pain-relieving properties which may help provide relief for cramps and help reduce menstrual symptoms such as fatigue. For these reasons, ginger essential oil is one of the most potent oils for cramps.
A study from the European Journal of Integrative Medicine evaluated if using ginger essential oil in an abdominal massage could influence menstrual cramps. 63 participants were divided into several groups including: no treatment, regular massage, or a massage with diluted, ginger essential oil. Researchers concluded that participants who used ginger essential oil experienced significantly reduced levels of pain and anxiety.
Ginger essential oil can be used to target PMS and menstrual cramps using aromatherapy, massages and bath soaking. To relieve cramping in the abdomen, dilute 1 drop of ginger essential oil into jojoba or coconut oil, and rub into abdomen in a circular motion until absorbed.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Penn State Hershey: Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. (2016, May 21). Painful menstrual periods. Retrieved May 2, 2017 from http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=117&pid=1&gid=003150
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015, January). Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. Retrieved May 2, 2016 from https://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq046.pdf
- Pinkerton, J., MD. (2015, November). Premenstrual Syndome (PMS). Merck Manual. Retrieved May 2, 2017 from http://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/menstrual-abnormalities/premenstrual-syndrome-pms – View reference
- Han, S. H., (2001 September). Effects of Aromatherapy on Menstrual Cramps and Dysmenorrhea in College Student Women. Korean Journal of Adult Nursing, 13(3), 420-430. Retrieved May 2, 2017 from https://www.koreamed.org/SearchBasic.php?DT=1&RID=0094JKAAN%2F2001.13.3.420
- Matsumoto, T., Asakura, H., Hayashi, T. (2013, May). Does lavender aromatherapy alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms? A randomized crossover trial. BioPsychoSocial Medicine,7(1). DOI: 1186/1751-0759-7-12.