What Causes Menstrual Cramps?

If you haven’t had menstrual cramps before, congratulations! You’re part of a very small minority of people with uteruses. If you’re of “reproductive age” (kind of a gross term, we know) you’ll probably have at least mild cramping with your period and sometimes even mid-cycle.

So what causes menstrual cramps, and what are your options for dealing with them, so they don’t ruin your day? Grab your heating pad and curl up on the couch — we’ve got everything you need to know.

What Are Menstrual Cramps?

To understand why painful periods happen, it’s good first to understand what happens to your body during your menstrual cycle. Throughout the month, the lining of the uterus continues to get thicker and thicker, kind of like a big shag carpet. Why? 

Because every month, your body is doing everything it can to prepare itself for pregnancy, even if that’s not part of your plan. Biological imperative, right?

But if you’re not pregnant by the end of the month, that uterine lining has to go somewhere — hence, menstruation. When your menstrual period starts, the lining begins to peel off the inside of your uterus. That lining then combines with blood and travels out of the body through the cervix, pushed out as the uterus contracts. 

These contractions, triggered by hormones like prostaglandins, are a large part of what causes menstrual cramps. It’s also why many people choose to take hormonal birth control, which stops the lining from building up in the first place. 

What Causes Painful Menstrual Cramps?

Shedding your uterine lining isn’t always the most comfortable event. But, for at least some people, those muscle contractions cross the line into becoming severe menstrual cramps

There are two different “types” of extra painful menstrual cramps — primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea. What distinguishes them is what does or doesn’t cause them. 

Primary dysmenorrhea means having menstrual cramps unrelated to another medical condition. Cramps because of cramps. The main culprit of this type of cramping is a build-up of prostaglandins, the hormone that makes the uterus cramp. 

Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common type of menstrual pain and can start as soon as your first period. The other period cramp type is secondary dysmenorrhea, caused by a separate but related medical condition. 

Endometriosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), adenomyosis, and other issues involving the reproductive organs are possible triggers. Generally, secondary dysmenorrhea starts later on in life and gets worse over time.

How Can You Soothe Menstrual Cramps?

If you’re here because you’re in the midst of menstrual cramps, who cares about what causes menstrual cramps?! You probably just want to know what the heck to do to stop them from hurting. 

We’ve got a few suggestions for you.

Natural Relief

Try using Relief Melts with CBD or rubbing in some Relief Salve with CBD & Kava afterward for additional relief. Using all-natural ingredients, we designed both products to help relax muscle discomfort, especially in the pelvic area.

Apply Heat

Remember that heating pad we mentioned earlier? It turns out it’s still one of the most researched and scientifically proven ways to relieve painful menstrual cramps. Plus, you don’t have to worry about it interacting with any medications or needing to have a prescription. 

Don’t have a heating pad? Try a hot water bottle or a warm washcloth — just make sure you’re not applying them directly to the skin (to avoid burns). Hot tip: fill a tube sock with rice, tie it off, and toss it in the microwave for a minute. Instant magic heating pad!

But why does heat work so well, you ask? 

The answer is twofold — applying heat to your lower abdomen or lower back increases circulation to the areas, which helps reduce swelling. Heat can also relax the uterine and pelvic floor muscles, and a less tense pelvis leads to less intense menstrual cramping.

Do you need some extra self-care when you’re hurting? Why not take a warm bath? 

In addition to the heat helping to increase circulation and pelvic relaxation, add a quarter of a jar of Relief Bath Salts with CBD & Kava. You’ll not only be able to dip your whole body in hot water, but the all-natural ingredients can help release your tension even further.

Take Your Vitamins 

When your uterus starts to twinge, it’s not just the meds in your cabinet that can help you out. We know the idea of using supplements for cramps may sound out there, but combining magnesium and vitamin B6 may change your mind. 

Magnesium helps to relax those uterine muscles further, while B6 reduces swelling. This combo has also been tied to decreasing PMS symptoms — win-win!

If your cramps persist, your gynecologist may prescribe an oral contraceptive pill. They may also want to schedule a laparoscopy or ultrasound to check for other sources of pelvic pain, such as growths or cysts around your ovaries or fallopian tubes.

Mindful Exercise

Exercise is great for you, but you already know that. You might not know that exercising can also help minimize menstrual cramps. 

Wait, don’t close your browser yet! We know what you’re thinking — there’s no way you’re getting up and working out when you’re crampy, right? We’re not saying you must run a marathon or bike 20 miles. 

Even something as small as some light yoga or a quick walk can get your blood flowing, release endorphins, and reduce bloating. Plus, it’s definitely great as a distraction technique!

Just remember to listen to your body. If you’re not feeling like getting out of bed to take a walk, it’s okay to move on to other solutions and skip this one for now.

Have an Orgasm

You’re probably not going to be in the mood when your cramps are at their worst. Or maybe you are; many people find themselves extra horny when they’re on their period! 

No matter where you fall on that scale, having an orgasm can be an excellent, nearly immediate solution for those nagging menstrual cramps. If period sex isn’t your thing, even a quick masturbation session can be beneficial.

When you have an orgasm, either solo or with a partner, the resulting chemicals (like oxytocin and dopamine) that flood your body act like natural painkillers.  

Talk to Your Doctor

Cramps hurt! For some, especially with secondary dysmenorrhea, all over-the-counter and non-pharmacological options don’t touch their cramps. In situations like these, there’s no reason to be a hero and “tough it out.” 

If your cramps are regularly debilitating, or if nothing you’re doing is helping enough to keep you comfortably living your life, it’s time to call your doctor. They may want to do further testing to see what’s going on and suggest and prescribe appropriate medication to help manage your pain more effectively. 

The Bottom Line

What causes menstrual cramps? Cramps are no fun for anyone, whether it’s just the natural process of your body shedding its lining or the result of another medical condition. 

The next time your cycle rolls around and your uterus starts to let you know, we hope our suggestions and products can bring you some relief!


Period Pain | Menstrual Cramps | MedlinePlus

Heat therapy for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of its effects on pain relief and quality of life | PubMed

Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome | PubMed

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