You had been looking forward to going on that bike ride, spending time at the family barbecue or watching a movie with your friend. Maybe you had just hoped to make it through your workday without distraction. But then you got your period and, along with it, pain that may range from dull & achy to tearing & excruciating, possibly accompanied by headaches or other uncomfortable sensations. The best-laid plans can be upended. You’re in good company! Many women experience period pain, in addition to other symptoms connected to their menstrual cycles.

But having period pain is not normal, it can have many different causes, and you should not expect having to suffer through it quietly. This recurrent pain is usually related to the natural hormonal fluctuations throughout your cycle. They subside once you reach menopause, which is the main reason older women usually no longer experience period pains.

First find out what’s wrong

No matter whether you are comfortable medicating your symptoms with pharmaceutical drugs or would rather employ natural strategies and therapies, your first step should be finding a knowledgeable and trustworthy gynecologist who will consider and order all the appropriate laboratory tests and clinical exams and imaging to identify and monitor hormonal imbalances, other indicators in your blood, and look for changes in your tissues such as uterine fibroids, adenomyosis and endometriosis. In some of these cases, surgery may be helpful, though it is usually not your first or only option. It is important, though, to have as much information available as possible before making major treatment decisions.

Then consider your options

Eastern and Western natural medicine have much to offer you as well. The focus of this approach is on restoring balance and supporting your body’s own healing capacity. To restore balance often requires changes in your nutrition because certain foods may be causing irritation, inflammation or even autoimmunity in your body. We want to be diligent in identifying foods that could be involved because we do want you to eat a diverse and natural diet that eliminates only those foods we know are creating problems in your individual case. To find out, the best approach often is an elimination diet under the guidance of a holistic nutritionist or naturopath.

Chinese medicine considers pain a sign of energetic stagnation that can have excess and deficiency causes. So, our goal is to diagnose what pattern lies underneath your period pain and other symptoms and devise a treatment approach accordingly. Acupuncture can be enormously helpful because it can relieve stagnation, improve the flow of energy, and stimulate your body’s production of endorphins, the body’s own feel-good hormones involved in pain relief.

Caring for women is a big focus in East Asian medicine, and over the centuries physicians practicing Chinese herbal medicine have developed strategies to relieve gynecologic pain and improve reproductive functioning naturally and without the use of pharmaceutical pain killers. One of the characteristics of Chinese gynecology is that it is a personalized approach tailored to a woman’s individual health picture. A prescription usually consists of about 12 different medicinal herbs and can be administered as a tea, tincture or in tablet form. Many of these medicinals improve microcirculation and reduce inflammation, which is helpful when trying to relieve period pain.

East meets West

As someone steeped in both Chinese medicine and naturopathy, I may also recommend the addition of nutritional supplements, such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc. They can work in tandem with botanical prescriptions and enhance their effect. Homeopathic medicines are another approach to relieving menstrual symptoms. These medicines are affordable and safe. They can be combined with other therapies. Different homeopathic medicines fit different symptom pictures, so you should ask your practitioner for advice.

Self-care is key

If you are tired of suffering from period pain, you will also need to take an honest look at what else is going on in your life. While the many forms of stress we tend to experience in life are probably not the primary cause of your period pain, stress can clearly exacerbate it. What are your personal stressors? What changes can you make? Often, we feel like we don’t have control over the sources of our stress, but we can change our attitudes and responses. This takes time and dedication to become part of your armor. I encourage people to learn how to meditate, to practice mindfulness, or to study yoga, tai chi or qigong on a regular basis. You may have your own preferred practice, and that’s okay, too. Just stick with it and keep an open mind in case you feel that it isn’t serving you any longer. Allowing change to happen is a natural way to overcome stagnation, the source of pain according to Chinese medicine.

© 2023 Christiane Siebert