If your menstrual cramps leave you curled up in a ball every month, then you would love to hear that using a period cup could help with your monthly suffering. Unfortunately, period cups can’t really help with menstrual cramps for all the problems they solve. The good news is that they don’t make them worse either. Keep reading to learn the facts about menstrual cups, menstrual cramps, and how you can make that time of the month a little bit more bearable.
This article is written by clinician Amy Harris. Read more about Amy Harris at the end of the article.
Do menstrual cups help with cramps?
No, menstrual cups don’t help with those throbbing pains in your lower abdomen. We’d like to be able to tell you that menstrual cups were a miracle cure for the pain that more than half of people who menstruate suffer from each month. But unfortunately, there are no scientific studies looking at any connection between menstrual cramps and period cups. So while we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that menstrual cups don’t help with cramps, we can say that there really isn’t any biological reason why menstrual cups could help with your cramps.
Menstrual cramps are caused by hormone shifts in your body with your menstrual cycle that trigger the muscles of your uterus to squeeze and contract. This squeezing and contraction (picture your arm biceps muscle bulging) help to squeeze out the menstrual tissue and blood you usually shed each month with your period.
Your uterus will cramp whether you are wearing your period cup or not. Your uterine muscles (the ones contracting and cramping) are nowhere near your menstrual cup. So while period cups are lifesavers because you can wear them longer than tampons and they don’t leak, they can’t save you from period cramps.
Can period cups make menstrual cramps worse?
Not likely. The only time menstrual cups can cause pain is when you insert them too close to your cervix (the mouth or opening to your uterus). Rarely, suction can form between your period cup and your cervix, which might feel like a pulling or aching. This type of pain is different than the aching, throbbing, sometimes wave-like pattern of menstrual cramps.
Finding the right menstrual cup size is partly decided by your uterus and cervix's size, shape, and location. Getting the right menstrual cup makes it less likely you have any discomfort from your period cup being too close to your cervix. You can learn more about your cervix and menstrual cups and the best period cups to use with a tilted uterus with our easy-to-follow guides.
Sometimes if you wear too large a menstrual cup or have it in the wrong place, it might feel uncomfortable or achy, but this is a different sensation than menstrual cramps. Don’t worry, menstrual cups can’t stretch you out or cause pelvic organ prolapse, even if you have the wrong size.
Finding the right size menstrual cup and practicing how to find the perfect insertion technique are two ways to make sure you don’t have menstrual cup pain. If you wear the right-sized period cup, you should not feel any discomfort or ongoing pain. There are better menstrual cups for beginners, so be sure to check out Ruby Cup’s saver kit with two sizes and a sterilizer.
If menstrual cups don’t help my cramps, what can?
There is hope. You don’t have to let menstrual cramps ruin your life, with or without your period cup.
DIY help for painful periods
You may be able to feel a whole lot better just by changing up your period pain management plan with these simple hacks.
- Regular dosing of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Having period sex
- Taking herbs like cinnamon twig or licorice root, or supplements, such as thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, or omega-3 fatty acids
- A heating pad, patch, or hot water bottle
- Taking a hot shower
- Drinking at least 24 ounces of water a day (helps with bloating)
- Sipping a mug of herbal tea (chamomile, dandelion, red raspberry, and fennel tea are known to inhibit the release of pain-causing prostaglandins)
Did you know that if you start taking the NSAIDs or pain relievers at the beginning of your period, or as soon as you feel symptoms, and continue taking them as directed for the next two to three days, you can have a lighter flow and fewer cramps? Examples of medications shown to help with menstrual cramps when taken each cycle, even before your cramps start, are Ibuprofen, Motrin, Advil, or Alleve.
Heat is known to be a great natural pain reliever. In people with painful periods, a hot patch worked as well as ibuprofen in helping people with cramps feel better. Heat brings blood to your lower abdomen, relaxes tight muscles, and reduces inflammation.
Both exercise and good sex with orgasm release your body’s natural feel-good hormones, endorphins. Also, when you orgasm, blood fills your pelvic area carrying two other natural painkillers (oxytocin and dopamine). So, while a workout or getting it on might not always be the first thing you feel like when you have your period, your body might thank you if you can motivate yourself and get in the mood to move.
Yoga and gentle exercise can feel great, and one study found that the Fish, Cobra, and Cat poses reduce the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps. People who regularly practice yoga have less painful periods.
When should you worry about your menstrual cramps?
If you have to miss work, work-outs, or everyday life for a couple of days each month, you may have dysmenorrhea (the medical name for really painful periods). Some people have diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness with severe menstrual cramps. If your menstrual cramps are ruining your life, it might be time to talk to a doctor or other health care provider about your other options for a less-painful life.
As many as one in four people with painful periods (25 percent) do not get relief with the medical treatments described below. These people sometimes can enjoy less painful periods after treatment with complementary or alternative therapies such as acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese medicine.
Which other medical conditions can cause severe menstrual cramps?
The most frequent causes of menstrual pain requiring medical treatment from a doctor are endometriosis, fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the tissue that lines your uterus grows outside of your uterus where it doesn’t belong. The monthly shifts in your hormones with your menstrual cycle cause this extra tissue to grow, swell and then shrink and bleed – experienced by you as throbbing intense pain and sometimes heavier periods. Endometriosis most commonly occurs in your pelvis, around your ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outer surface of your uterus, and the ligaments holding your pelvic organs (uterus, bladder, vagina, ovaries) in place.
Many people are not diagnosed with endometriosis until their 30s and 40s, when they may be trying to get pregnant. Doctors diagnose endometriosis through a type of surgery called laparoscopic surgery. During this minimally-invasive surgery with a camera, doctors can see where the endometrial tissue is located and remove it, helping to treat symptoms. Endometriosis growths are not cancerous, but they can cause problems.
What is pelvic inflammatory disease?
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the organs in your lower abdomen (your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes). It is most often but not always caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Besides causing painful periods, PID can also cause a change in your vaginal discharge, pain with sex, fever and chills, pain or difficulty when urinating, and irregular bleeding not during your menstrual cycle or after sex.
If you have these symptoms, even if they are not severe, you should see a health care provider to be screened and treated. People can get very sick with PID, and it is a significant cause of infertility (trouble getting pregnant). Untreated PID can also cause long-term pelvic pain that is difficult to treat.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids usually cause heavy menstrual periods as well as cramps. Some women with fibroids also have bleeding in between periods or pelvic pain. Fibroids are more common in older women (40s and up), African Americans, people who eat more red meat, and people with larger bodies. Not all people with fibroids have symptoms. Fibroids are usually felt during a pelvic exam but can be diagnosed with other tests such as ultrasounds, MRI, or Cat scans.
What are some medical treatments for endometriosis, fibroids, and PID?
People choose surgery when their symptoms are severe, or they can’t get pregnant. If you or your doctor are not ready for surgery, there are ways to treat the painful periods caused by endometriosis and fibroids without diagnosing them first. These include:
- Prescription pain medication
- Hormonal birth control (pills, IUD, implant, or patch)
- If you are trying to get pregnant, treatment with a medication type called a GnRH agonist (Lupron)
Because PID is an ongoing infection, it is important to treat it with antibiotics so that it does not get worse. In addition, doctors may do laparoscopic surgery to remove some of the scar tissue that PID causes if it is not treated right away.
There are other possible causes of pain during your period that may not be related to your period. Sometimes being constipated (having trouble pooping) is common around your period because of hormonal shifts. Constipation can cause throbbing waves of pelvic and belly pain. Other possible explanations for your pain could include:
- A urinary tract infection (pain when you pee)
- You are miscarrying if you were pregnant and did not realize it
- Kidney stones
- Spasms of the muscles of your pelvic floor
- Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal (stomach) upset
Related post: Yes, you can pee and poop normally with a menstrual cup in
It can be frustrating when there is no easy answer or a simple fix when you are in pain. As you can see from the long list of possible causes of menstrual cramps above, it may take your doctor a few tries to find the correct diagnosis or treatment that works best for you and your menstrual cramps.
At Ruby Cup, we want you to enjoy a fuss-free period, so if menstrual cramps keep you from living your life, we support you in seeking answers. The more you get to know how your body and your menstrual cycles work, the more active a role you can take in being in charge of your reproductive health and wellbeing.
What is the best menstrual cup for cramps?
The best menstrual cup for cramps is your regular menstrual cup. There is no specific shape or size of period cup shown to make menstrual cramps any better or worse.
Do menstrual cups cause cramps?
No. Menstrual cups sit in an entirely different part of your pelvis from the muscles of your uterus that cause your period cramps.
Does menstrual cup suction affect cramps?
No. Menstrual cups are designed to sit snuggly up against the walls of your vagina. The suction that forms between the soft and flexible medical grade silicone of period cups like Ruby Cup is not painful. You should not have any menstrual cup pain, even if you have menstrual cramps. This suction holds your period cup in your vagina, nowhere near your uterine muscles causing cramps. Menstrual cup suction is a good thing – it keeps your cup from leaking.
Written by Amy Harris.
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with more than a decade of clinical experience in reproductive health clinics, hospitals, and private OB/GYN practices. Amy holds a Masters of Science in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard School of Public Health and completed her nursing and midwifery training at Yale School of Nursing and Boston University School of Public Health. Passionate about empowering women through health education, Amy puts her public health training to work as a dedicated women’s health writer.