Dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps are caused by a contracting of the uterus and can cause mild to severe pain in women who are still fertile and ovulating. In some cases, menstrual cramps are routine and typical for a particular woman, while other cases can bring on very abnormal cramping which is stronger than usual. In extreme cases your physician might prescribe you some specialty medication, otherwise standard ibuprofen or acetaminophen should work. Medical News Today writes: “Over-the-counter medication is available to treat most cases of menstrual cramps. These medications are often called anti-prostaglandins, and they reduce cramping in the uterus, make period flow lighter, and relieve discomfort. Many of these medications also contain pain killers such as ibuprofen or naproxen, which are types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”
An alternative treatment for those wishing to avoid pain medication is therapy through the use of a TENS unit. TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, works by sending electrical impulses into the skin surrounding the pain. This helps to block transmitters which are sending pain signals to the brain while simultaneously promoting the production of endorphins and other natural body chemicals which work to relieve pain.
Aside from the medicinal treatments and TENS therapy, there are various other ways to treat cramping, especially if it is only mild. A hot bath or hot water bottle on the affected area can be quite successful in supplying relief. Massages and acupuncture have also been known to help, although many believe these forms to be more mental therapies than physical ones. In very extreme cases, a doctor may suggest that surgery occur to lessen pain, but TENS units have shown to be an effective and far less invasive procedure. Before a treatment is prescribed, a physician will do an exam to determine which will work best. Web MD reports: “First, you will be asked to describe your symptoms and menstrual cycles. Your provider also will perform a pelvic exam in which he or she will insert a speculum in order to see into your vagina and cervix. A small sample of vaginal fluid may be taken for testing. Your provider will then insert his or her fingers into the vagina to examine your uterus and ovaries to feel for any abnormalities.” This examination is important because some abdominal cramping is not due to period contractions. In some cases, it can be caused by an infection or other disorders, and an examination gives your physician the ability to diagnose the pain and prescribe the correct treatment to relieve it.
To receive the benefits of TENS for dysmenorrhea, electrode pads must be placed in the right spaces. Doctors advise that these should be stuck around the pain, not directly on it, so that the electrical impulses cross over the cramping region in the lower back or abdomen. For larger region of pain, smaller TENS units may not be as effective. Bodyclock.net states: “TENS is ideal for the treatment of painful menstruation. It is non-invasive and drug-free. Pads are placed on the back, near the area of pain. TENS uses soothing pulses that are sent via the pads through the skin and along the nerve fibers. The pulses suppress pain signals to the brain and encourage the body to produce higher levels of its own natural pain killing chemicals – endorphins and encephalins.”
Women who purchase TENS machines for period cramps can continue using the device or other pain as well. In fact, these units have seen positive results in cases of fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and even injuries. Leg pain, back pain, and migraines are a common cause for electrical stimulation of this kind.
Menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea, usually takes place prior to the start of a woman’s period, this is why it is called PMS. Unfortunately for some women, this is not the only pain that will be felt throughout their cycle. Secondary dysmenorrhea can cause a second onset of symptoms, bringing back cramps for up to three days. TENS treatments can also be used to treat these cramps, and it is suggested that pain control begin before the cramps become too painful to handle. MedicineNet.com explains: “In secondary dysmenorrhea, some underlying abnormal condition (usually involving a woman’s reproductive system) contributes to the menstrual pain. Secondary dysmenorrhea may be evident at menarche, but more often, the condition develops later.”
If secondary dysmenorrhea lasts more than the above mentioned number of days, it is important to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. Cease using your TENS until otherwise instructed by a medical professional following an examination. If your doctor decides that the continuation of cramping is normal, use of electrical stimulation can continue to be used.
TENS has also become a viable treatment during labour, although it has not yet been deemed safe for use in earlier stages of pregnancy.