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When you're dealing with menstrual cramps, probably the only thing you want to do is curl up in bed with a heating pad, some snacks, and a remote to queue up Netflix. Most likely the furthest thing from your mind is getting up and getting active. But actually, movement can help ease PMS symptoms. "There are evidence-based ways to improve period pain and heavy bleeding," explains Wendy Goodall McDonald, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and member of The Honey Pot Company's panel of professionals, The Pulse. "Regular aerobic exercise (cardio) 30 minutes per day, three days per week has been shown to significantly reduce period pain."
But if you're not feeling up for cardio or an intense HIIT class during that time of the month, you can also try something lower impact, like stretching or yoga. "Gentle movement that focuses on contracting and stretching through the abdominals and low back can alleviate period cramps," says P.volve lead instructor Maeve McEwen. "This type of movement increases circulation and boosts endorphins without overstressing your body at the time when your hormones are at their lowest."
McDonald and McEwen shared some stretches to try below. Just remember to pay attention to your body when you're trying them out. "You can incorporate these stretches as much as you may need," McEwen says. "This is the time in your menstrual cycle when your hormones and energy are at their natural lowest, so I always recommend listening to your body and moving as you feel inclined. Gradually start to increase intensity as you reach the end of your menstrual phase." And don't forget to breathe!
McEwen says that this classic yoga stretch contracts and stretches through the abdominals and lower-back area. "Begin on all fours. Inhale as you arch through your back and stretch through the abdominals," she says. "Exhale and round your spine as you contract through your abdominals and stretch through the low back. Repeat eight to 10 times."
2. Yoga Poses
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"Yoga for 60 minutes once per week has demonstrated notable improvement in period pain," McDonald says. "You can also break that into two 30-minute yoga sessions. I can arbitrarily select three to five yoga poses but know there isn't specific evidence to support one particular pose over the others. I would recommend Cat-Cow, Warrior Pose I and II, Downward-Facing Dog, and Corpse Pose, since laying on the ground and focusing on breathing sounds great! I like these exercises because they include movement and stretching of the pelvis and lower abdomen."
3. Kneeling Open Lunges
McEwen says this will help open the hips to alleviate back tension. "Begin in a kneeling lunge position," she says. "Take your front leg out toward the front diagonal or as far as you can. Shift your weight out toward the front foot, stretching into your inner thighs. Return back to center. Repeat and add alternating arm reaches toward the ceiling to further stretch the abdominals and front of the hips. Repeat on both sides."
4. Seated Spinal Twist
This stretch will contract and lengthen the obliques, improving upper-back mobility to take pressure off your lower back. "Begin seated with both knees bent and one leg crossed over the other. Bring the top knee toward your chest, inhale, and sit taller through your spine. Exhale as you gently rotate from your core toward the front leg. Hold the position, and as you breathe deeply, try to rotate more on each exhale. Repeat on both sides," McEwen says.
"Begin on all fours. Reach one leg back and the opposite arm forward and lift off the floor," McEwen says. "Inhale, finding length through your spine, then exhale and round your spine, bringing your front elbow and back knee toward your center using your deep core. Repeat eight to 10 times on both sides." This will target the abdominals, glutes, and back muscles.
6. X Squeeze and Release
This stretch contracts and lengthens the body. Plus, it helps to release tension that you might be holding on to. "Lie on your back in an X shape. Inhale and stretch as long as you can in this position. Exhale and hug your arms and legs into your torso, giving yourself a tight squeeze with a rounded spine. Repeat four to six times," McEwen says.
7. Hug Knee and Circle
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"Lie on your back. With one leg straight out, hug the other knee toward your body and gently compress your thigh toward your abdomen as you breathe deeply," McEwen says. "Turn the leg out to the side, hug the thigh toward the side of the body, and breathe deeply again. Hold each position as long as needed, and repeat on both sides." This is a great stretch that will open the hips, while controlled deep breathing can calm the nervous system.
8. All Fours Shift
This simple stretch helps you engage your hips, glutes, lower back, and abdominals. "Begin on all fours. Inhale as you shift your hips back toward your heels, keeping a neutral spine. Exhale as you squeeze through the glutes, contract through the low abs, and bring yourself to a modified plank position. Repeat six to eight times," McEwen explains.
Other Things to Do to Relieve Period Pain
It helps to take a holistic approach to deal with period pain and symptoms. So along with these stretches above, you'll also want to be mindful of your diet and try other remedies to see what works best for you. McDonald shares some other things to try:
Eat a balanced diet: "Decreasing fatty foods, increasing fruits and green leafy vegetables, and incorporating low-fat dairy has also demonstrated a reduction in period pain and bleeding," McDonald says.
Take medications: "Scheduled NSAIDs—ibuprofen or naproxen—block the production of prostaglandins, which cause inflammation and pain. Starting ibuprofen or naproxen as directed even before period pain is severe can blunt the reaction that causes the pain," McDonald says.
Try essential oils: "Lavender and rose hips have been shown to promote circulation and reduce inflammation and pain," McDonald says. You can diffuse them, or apply topically with a carrier oil, like jojoba or sweet almond oil.
Seek professional help: In some cases, you might want to see a doctor if your menstrual cramps are serious. McDonald recommends that you visit your doctor if the cramps are interfering with your daily life and/or if you are compelled to take more pain medication than the recommended dose or if the recommended dose isn't relieving symptoms. "If symptoms are changing, worsening, or you are having unpredictable pain, pain with intercourse, or pain with bowel movements, further evaluation and possibly an ultrasound of the pelvis may be needed," McDonald says.