Most women know what it is to have a painful period at some time, and up to 50% have reported that such pain seriously disrupts their lives, Aromatherapy can be a natural way to help cope with period pains.
What are the causes?
As part of a woman’s regular monthly cycle, the body prepares for a possible pregnancy by building up the lining of the womb. If, at the end of this cycle, no pregnancy results, then this lining must be shed (as a period), to be replaced by a new one. In order to remove the lining, the womb goes into contractions (cramps), similar to, but not as severe as those seen during labour. It is these contractions that cause the pain during a period. During a contraction, the blood vessels in the wall of the womb are compressed, reducing temporarily the supply of blood, and therefore oxygen, to the womb. This triggers the release of chemicals, some of which produce pain and others (called prostaglandins) which induce even stronger contractions. The degree of pain experienced depends on the strength of the contractions.
Some women are fortunate and feel only mild pain or a dull ache; others experience violent cramps that seriously affect their quality of life. Severe period pains are known as dysmenorrhoea. The pain of a period can be worse when we are feeling particularly emotional or stressed, or when we are also experiencing pain from other causes. Painful periods usually become less severe after a woman has given birth to her first child.
How to help reduce period pains naturally
Many women who experience painful periods are reported to use painkillers. If, however, you would prefer to try a more natural way to relieve the pain of a period, here are a few suggestions:
- Stress can exacerbate period pains so try to minimize stress levels at this time. Certain essential oils are known to help reduce stress: try taking a warm bath with four drops of one of the following essential oils (geranium, neroli, palma rosa and/or clary sage) (or you could try a mixture). You could also add the oils to a heated pad (add the oil after heating) or a hot water bottle and place it on your lower abdomen or back (be careful not to burn your skin).
- Aromatherapy massage. Recent research has found that a gentle massage using two drops of lavender (Lavandula officinalis), one drop of clary sage (Salvia sclarea) and one drop of rose (Rosa centifolia) essential oils in 5 ml of almond oil significantly reduced the severity of menstrual cramps compared with women who received no treatment and those who received massage using almond oil only.
- Constipation can also increase the pain of a period, so it is important to maintain regular bowel movements at this time. Eat lots of fibre and drink lots of water, especially as some women get dehydrated at this time.
- Regular exercise, such as swimming, walking or cycling, has also been reported to reduce period pains, and it can, of course, also help avoid constipation.
When are period pains not normal?
Severe period pains should always be investigated to check that whether there is another cause that can be treatable. Usually, if you’ve had severe period pains since the time your periods first started, it is less likely that a particular cause will be found. However, conditions such as endometriosis can sometimes cause severe pain from an early age (although the pain typically gets worse with each monthly cycle). Other causes of severe period pain include fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease and sometimes narrowing of the cervix.
The best guide is to first try to find a simple way of managing the pain that works for you. If this doesn’t control the pain, or the pain begins to interfere with your life, preventing you from working or coping with daily tasks, then talk to your doctor.
- Han SH, Hur MH, Buckle J, Choi J, Lee MS. Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med 2006; 12: 535-41.
- Worwood VA. The Fragrant Pharmacy. A complete guide to aromatherapy & essential oils. Bantam Books, 1996.