4 Types of Period Pain and Ways to Relieve Discomfort
Published | 8 min read
A common occurrence for women during menstruation, period pain does not have to be debilitating. Understanding both the Western and TCM approaches, can help women find relief and lessen their discomfort.
Period pain, menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea are common among women during menstruation. During this monthly process, many women experience mild symptoms – such as cramping and constipation – while others experience painful or irregular periods. This pain can ebb and flow causing headaches, lower back pain, and diarrhea.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the color of period blood can reveal a woman’s health condition. For example, a regular period has dark fresh blood without clots. However, pale blood with a diluted texture indicates a qi (vital life energy) deficiency, while light red blood with diluted texture means a blood deficiency.
“The causes of menstrual cramps in TCM are cold pathogen (寒气), stagnation of qi (气滞), damp-heat (湿热), deficiency of the kidney (肾虚), and deficiency of qi and blood (气血不足),” TCM physician Ho Li Ying says. For an accurate and personal assessment, visit a TCM physician.
Types of Period Pain
In general, there are two kinds of dysmenorrhea – primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea refers to common cramps in the abdomen which happen before or during menstruation. Sometimes the cramps occur as intense spasms, while other times, women experience a dull and constant ache. In more severe cases, this pain can spread to the back and thighs. Some women experience headaches and breast tenderness, too.
Secondary dysmenorrhea usually occurs in older women. This kind of period pain often gets worse over time. Causes of secondary dysmenorrhea include:
It is estimated that 2 to 10% of American women of reproductive age are affected by endometriosis. During menstruation, the lining of the uterus called the endometrium sheds through the vagina. In endometriosis, pieces of endometrium develop outside the inner lining of the uterus, such as on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, peritoneum, or the intestine. This condition causes a chronic inflammatory reaction, making it difficult for a woman to become pregnant and can cause pain during or after sexual intercourse.
Other common signs include unbearable period pain, painful bowel movements, muscle pain and fatigue, chronic pelvic pain, and infertility. Should you be experiencing these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor for a full assessment.
Adenomyosis is a condition that causes the tissue from the lining of the uterus to grow into the muscle of the uterus, causing the uterus to be thicker and bigger than it should be. Its symptoms include painful period cramps, heavy periods, painful sex, and infertility. Hormonal therapies can ease symptoms, but for severe cases, surgically removing the uterus (hysterectomy) offers a permanent solution.
3. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacteria infection of the reproductive organs in women, affecting the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. It happens when sexually transmitted bacteria spread from the vagina to the upper reproductive organs. This can be the result of an STD (Sexual Transmitted Disease), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
It is estimated, according to the CDC, that 1 in 8 women with PID have difficulties getting pregnant. Common symptoms include fever, pain in your abdomen, burning sensation during urination, or bleeding in-between periods.
4. Fibroids (benign tumors)
Fibroids are non-cancerous or benign growths that develop in or around the wall of the uterus. They can grow as a single tumor or can grow as multiple tumors. They can also be small or big and tend to affect older women as well as those with obesity and people with a family history. Many don’t experience symptoms but some people have heavy periods, lower back pain, frequent urination, or painful sex.
How to Relieve Period Pain with Western Medicine
In general, most women experience mild period pain or PMS (premenstrual syndrome) before and during menstruation. You can take over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or aspirin. However, these painkillers are not suitable for those with stomach, kidney, or liver diseases. Healthcare professionals may prescribe naproxen or codeine if mild painkillers don’t help. If you are not trying to get pregnant, doctors may recommend birth control hormones to reduce menstrual pain and lighten bleeding.
Additionally, you can relieve pain without medications by trying the following:
- Place a heating pad on your lower abdomen.
- Take warm baths to relieve discomfort.
- Get regular massages.
- Enjoy gentle exercise such as walking or Yoga.
- Get sufficient sleep.
- Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient water and herbal teas.
- Consume nourishing soups and broths.
- Get Acupuncture treatments.
- Stay away from coffee or caffeinated drinks.
- Take dietary supplements, such as magnesium, Vitamin B, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D and Vitamin E, and flavonoids.
If your period pain is due to a medical issue, you should treat its root cause. For example, if fibroids are causing your menstrual pain, you might need surgery. Always get a proper diagnosis before attempting to self-medicate.
How to Treat Period Pain with TCM
According to TCM, period pain is the result of several internal conditions, which can be treated with various herbal remedies:
Cold-coagulation and blood stasis
Cold-coagulation and blood stasis are common in people with yang (active energy) asthenia constitution. This is signified by those who are frequently afraid of cold and have cold hands and feet. They experience cold pain in the lower abdomen before or during their period. During menstruation, their menstrual blood volume might be low and contain blood clots.
Treatment: Apply a hot towel or hot water bag to the lower abdomen when you experience period pain. In addition, warm ginger tea with brown sugar can help to relieve cold coagulation.
“They should avoid cold food and drinks, as well as cold weather or environment. When feeling cold, put on more clothes. A 15-min foot bath taken an hour before sleep would be beneficial. Use warm water and add argy wormwood leaf or lemongrass. These herbs will relieve cold-coagulation,” says physician Ho.
Additionally, Bak Foong Pills, a natural TCM formula with over 20 types of Chinese tonic herbs, is known to relieve period pain and disorders and help women find comfort. It should be noted that unlike other pain relief pills, Bak Foong pills should be taken daily before and after menstruation, as it may lead to heavy flow during menstrual period.
Qi stagnation and blood stasis
Qi stagnation and blood stasis are common in women who are usually feeling depressed, stressed, impatient, or often stayed up late. Pain in the lower abdomen before or during their period, accompanied by pain in the breasts or upper abdomen is typical with this type.
“They also report delayed menstruation or prolonged periods. During their period, they will have low blood volume, with dark blood color and blood clots,” says physician Ho.
Treatment: Avoid staying up late, reduce screen time at night, engage in activities to relieve stress – such as Yoga or meditation – maintain a good mood, and exercise regularly.
“Rose tea helps to relieve qi stagnation and blood stasis. Apart from this, a 15-min foot bath taken an hour before sleep can help. Use warm water, and add ligusticum wallichii cnidium (chuanxiong, 川芎) and spatholobus stem (jixueteng, 鸡血藤),” advises physician Ho.
Women experiencing menopause can also try Menoease Pills, a Bak Foong Pills-derived formula, to assist with alleviating post-menopausal symptoms. Additionally, they can support immunity, calm palpitations, help with poor sleep, and relieve discomfort from hot flushes. According to physician Ho, “herbal concoctions containing radix angelicae sinensis, rhizoma chunxiong, fructus jujubae can also help improve their well-being.”
Damp-heat is common in women who are sensitive to heat and easily develop ulcers in the mouth. They will feel lower abdomen pain and sometimes back pain before or during their period. They also experience high body temperature when they are menstruating.
“Their blood volume might be high during menstruation, with sticky blood and blood clots. In addition, there will be a large amount of vaginal discharge or yellowish vaginal discharge,” says physician Ho.
Treatment: Consume a balanced diet, reduce your fat, sugar, and oily food intake. Regular exercise is essential as well.
“Women with this condition can also consume Rehmanniae Radix (Sheng di) soup, Chinese Yam porridge, and a jasmine herbal tea,” she notes.
Deficiency of the kidney
Deficiency of the kidney is common in women who have dizziness or tinnitus and lack of vaginal discharge. They may experience back pain before or during their period and a dull ache in the lower abdomen at the end of their period. During menstruation, they will have low blood volume, with pinkish or light red blood.
Treatment: Avoid staying up late and overworking. Consume nutritious foods such as black beans, black sesame, mulberry, raspberry, goji berry, and more. Bak Foong Pills can also help nourish the kidney and liver.
Deficiency in qi and blood
Deficiency in qi and blood is common in women who are always tired or sleepy or have insomnia and dizziness. When they have their period, they may notice low blood volume with pinkish or light red blood. Back pain before or during a period and dull ache in the lower abdomen after a period are also common symptoms.
Treatment: Healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial for women with this condition. Consume Ba Zhen soup, qi, a blood nourishing tea, and Pure Chicken Essence to tonify your qi and replenish your overall well-being.
While every woman experiences menstruation, period pain is not something that has to be debilitating. There are many steps you can take to lessen your discomfort. This includes eating healthy, exercising regularly, and practicing a healthy lifestyle as well as TCM and Western practices for overall health and well-being.
- Medline Plus. 2021. Period Pain. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]
- John Hopkins Medicine. 2021. Period Pain: Could It Be Endometriosis?. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]
- John Hopkins Medicine. 2021. Endometriosis. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]
- Mayo Clinic. 2021. Adenomyosis. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]
- CDC. 2021. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) – CDC Fact Sheet. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]
- Office on Women’s Health. 2021. Uterine fibroids. [Accessed on January 19, 2022]