For some women, menstrual pain involves more than just cramps in the lower abdomen. Abdominal pain during menstruation can move to the lower back and radiate down the legs.
While some pain is normal during menstrual periods, back pain you suffer is an uncomfortable symptom you can live without. But understanding what is causing the pain can help you choose the treatment that's right for you.
Role of Prostaglandins
Prostaglandins cause many of the symptoms, including lower back discomfort, which are often associated with painful menstruation. These lipid compounds, which act similar to hormones, are produced by cells in the uterine lining. Prostaglandins constrict the blood vessels in the uterus, which is what makes the uterine muscles contract.
When too many prostaglandins are produced, the uterus contracts too strongly, temporarily cutting off blood supply to the muscle. Decreased blood supply means less oxygen to the area. This lack of oxygen causes pain.
Doctors generally attribute menstrual pain to dysmenorrhea. The condition is diagnosed as primary dysmenorrhea if you've experienced menstrual pain since the onset of your periods and there is no other cause for the pain. Treatment of primary dysmenorrhea focuses on providing enough pain relief so that you can go about your normal daily activities during your period.
Depending on the severity of your pain, your doctor may recommend hormone treatment in the form of estrogen-progestin contraceptives. The findings of a study published in Human Reproduction found that the combined oral contraceptive pill may help relieve painful periods.
If you have secondary dysmenorrhea, a medical condition such as pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis may be the cause of your pain. In that case, your doctor will treat the pain by treating the condition. Treatment varies depending on the underlying condition but involves medications or surgery.
Unless pain is severe and accompanied by other symptoms, you can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to relieve lower back pain. Medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, block the effects of prostaglandins. Taking the drugs before your period starts may give you more pain relief.
Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, massages to the lower back, and proper nutrition can provide additional relief. Exercise releases muscle tension, strengthens the back muscles, and releases endorphins -- hormones that help relieve pain by producing an analgesic effect. Strengthening your core muscles puts less stress on your spine, reducing the risk for low back pain.
Your lower back supports most of your body's weight, so losing extra pounds can decrease the weight on your spine and pressure on your spinal discs. Weight gain or loss can also change your menstrual cycle, triggering symptoms.
A gentle massage on your back can help ease back pain and cramps by relaxing tight muscles. Massages increase blood flow to the area, transporting nutrients to the muscles and tissues in your spine so that they can do their jobs. You might also consider seeing a chiropractor like Valley Chiropractic for help.
If you're looking to ease your pain through nutrition, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are known for their pain-relieving properties. In addition to providing a source of omega-3 fats, walnuts are a source of vitamin B6, which acts as an analgesic in relieving pain symptoms.
Calcium plays a role in maintaining muscle tone, which may be why including adequate calcium in your diet can help ease menstrual pain.
When It's More than Menstrual Pain
Although you can usually get pain relief from home remedies and lifestyle changes, contact your doctor if menstrual pain suddenly gets worse or lasts for longer than normal. Pain should not remain after your period ends.
Report symptoms of fever and chills, as these can be signs of infection in the reproductive organs. Excessive vaginal bleeding along with low back pain may signal an ectopic pregnancy. Pain in the lower back and thighs can also be a symptom of ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids. Either of these conditions may require surgery or other treatment if symptoms become severe.Share