When Does PMS Cramping Start?
Uwe Porters - Mid-wife / Pregnancy & Postpartum Expert
Menstrual cramps are an unwanted fact of life for many women. In fact, cramps are one of the most common menstrual symptoms and studies show that up to 85% of women experience cramps before or during their period.
Some women start cramping a week before their period and many continue to feel cramps throughout their period. The good news is that cramps usually disappear as your period ends. But are you destined to lay on your bed sidelined with a hot water bottle and pain killers for a week each month? We don’t think so!
If you suffer from period cramps, read on. In this post, we’ll tell you all about PMS-related cramps, what causes them, how early they can start and what you can do to feel better.
What causes PMS cramps?
Cramps are really uncomfortable. They can make everyday activities feel like a slog, but because they are so common, most women simply accept them as a fact of life and suffer through the pain each month. Cramps are not just random bad luck. They actually happen for a reason. During your period, your uterus contracts, meaning it squeezes and cramps up. This is what makes the lining of your uterus fall off and leave your body. The cramping feeling is what is actually helping the period blood come out of your body.
Most women will have experienced cramps at some point in their life. Sometimes, the pain is intense. Other times it’s more like a throbbing feeling in your lower belly. Cramps can start a few days before your period and sometimes continue throughout your period. They are usually at their worst during the first few days of your period when you are bleeding the most.
Cramps are not always consistent either. Some women may have never experienced cramps when they were younger and struggle later in life. For others, cramps become less painful with time (Or, are we just used to them by the time we’re in our 30s and beyond?!)
The thing is, you do not need to suffer. There are lots of ways to alleviate menstrual cramps.
When do they happen?
Cramps can sometimes sneak up on you. One day, you’re firing on all cylinders and the next? You’re doubled over in pain like you’re being continually punched in the belly. For most women, cramps happen a few days before their period but for others cramps can start as early as 10 days before your period.
Every woman will have a different experience of period cramps. Sometimes it’s a throbbing feeling in your lower stomach. Other times it's more of a dull, (seemingly) never-ending ache. For some women, the pain can be so intense that it radiates down their lower back and thighs.
Cramping pain normally starts 1-3 days before your period but some women do experience cramps up to a week before their period. Changes in estrogen and progesterone can cause cramping as much as a week or more before your period starts!
However, for most women, the pain will peak 24 hours after the onset of your period and then gets better in 2-3 days. At the time, it can feel like an eternity but if it’s any consolation, remember, the pain will go away on its own.
How to help relieve PMS cramping
When you’re in pain, everything can feel impossible. And dealing with recurring pain in the form of menstrual cramps every single month can be frustrating and exhausting. The Guud news is that there’s lots you can do to bring some much-needed relief.
Everyone is different. Some period cramp remedies will work wonders for some women and for others, they won’t be as effective. And, if you struggle with a chronic condition, you may need to seek expert help from your GP or gynaecologist. That said, the techniques we’ll tell you about here can offer period cramp relief for mild to moderate pain.
First things first, it’s good to try to reduce bloating. Bloating can make menstrual cramps worse. The best way to reduce bloating is to drink water. You may already feel like your belly is full and tight and drinking water sounds like the last thing on earth that will help, but water can actually reduce bloating during your period and alleviate some of the pain it causes. For an added boost, try drinking hot water. It can increase blood flow throughout your body and help relax your muscles. The result? Less intense cramps.
You also need to be careful about what you eat if you suffer from bloating and cramps. When you feel bad, it can be easy to reach for comfort food like baked goods or salty snacks. But beware! Foods that are high in sugar, trans fats and salt cause bloating and inflammation and this makes muscle pain and cramps way worse. Instead, reach for fruits and veggies or some unsalted nuts if you fancy something a bit savoury.
Read how to keep your gut healthy here.
Drink some herbal teas
Stock up that tea cupboard! Not only does drinking tea have a comforting effect on its own, but some types of herbal teas can also help soothe and support muscle pain, including period cramps.
What teas are best? Try chamomile, fennel, ginger or raspberry leaf tea. They are best for relieving cramps, and they have other benefits too like helping reduce stress, and gently lulling you to sleep!
Relax your muscles with heat
Heat can help your muscles relax, improve blood flow and relieve tension. Grab a hot water bottle, heating pad or jump in a hot shower or bath. The soothing effect of heat can work wonders for cramps.
Take some extra vitamins and minerals
Adding a supplement in combination with a healthy, balanced lifestyle can also be a great idea. Studies have shown that when women have sufficient nutrients in their body, it can actually help relieve feelings of cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea.
Many women who struggle with PMS and cramping may be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is great for supporting muscle function and research has found that a combination of magnesium and B6 can be a powerhouse when it comes to both emotional and physical symptoms of PMS.
Some research has also shown that omega-3 fatty acids can be a useful supplement for relieving menstrual pain, like cramps. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation and that’s why they can be effective in decreasing menstrual cramps. Many women do not have imbalanced omega-3 levels which can be can mean they might have more intense cramping during their periods.
Of course, supplements won’t give you immediate relief. It’s important to incorporate supplements into your everyday routine, not just during your period. Remember, for most supplements, it can take up to three months before you start to notice a difference.
Exercise for muscle relaxation and endorphins
Exercise while you’re in pain? You probably think we’ve gone mad. But hear us out. Even gentle exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you feel happy. They also… wait for it… reduce pain and relax your muscles!
So even something as simple as 15 minutes of yoga, a walk with the dog, or a few minutes of stretching can do a world of good. Also, if exercise is already a part of your routine, remember to track your period. Knowing what phase of your cycle you’re in can actually help you improve your athletic performance.
Learn more about exercise and your cycle in our post called Period Power: How to Train According to Your Cycle.
Reduce your stress levels
Stress makes cramps worse and can have an impact on your menstrual health (read more here). If you can, try to reduce your stress using any techniques you have available. If there are external stressors like work or family that you can turn the volume down on for a bit, do it. If not, try stress relief techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga or even exercise (it works for some people!)
If you’re not sure what to do, try a guided meditation on YouTube or through an app like Headspace, Calm or Buddhify.
Get a massage
Speaking of reducing stress levels, one way to do that is to get a massage. Some studies have found that massage therapy can significantly reduce period cramps, especially in women who suffer from endometriosis. Massages can relax the uterus, especially if the therapist focuses on the abdominal area. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a full body massage either. It can help reduce your cramps and your overall stress too.
Try alternative therapies
Acupuncture and acupressure is not for everyone, but some women find these ancient Eastern practices to be extremely effective. We know the idea of sticking tiny needles all over your body is a real turn-off for some people, but acupuncture has been proven to provide relief (not just for period cramps, but a wide range of other ailments too!) Both acupuncture and acupressure can help you relax, release muscle tension and improve blood flow throughout your body.
Still searching for relief from period cramps? Talk to our support team. We have menstrual health experts on hand who are here to listen and provide advice. We’re here for you!