So many pelvic health issues that women ‘live with’ have become so common in our culture that we do not even realize that our bodies may be trying to provide us with a message to address something, much less that there is actually help to address it. Things like bladder leaking, post-partum pain, and painful periods can be addressed, but we first have to acknowledge that our culture has normalized issues that are not normal, and sent the message that we need to live with it. For the past several decades, young girls, teenage girls, and women have been given the message that periods are painful, inconvenient, and to be privately suffered.
We might begin to think of our menstrual cycle is a vital sign – a way of understanding the health of our body on a monthly basis.
And, we need to talk about these cycles. We need to share with our medical professionals how we experience our periods, and we need to choose medical professionals, as best we can, who take this information seriously.
One of the first and most important reasons to talk to your medical professional about period pain is because one in ten women worldwide actually has endometriosis. While endometriosis symptoms can range from none to extreme period pain, in addition to nausea/vomiting, long periods, painful sex, or bowel/bladder disorders, it is important to know. There is currently no cure for endometriosis, however knowing you have it can help to create an individualized action plan for addressing associated pain and potential fertility challenges. The average diagnosis of endometriosis takes on average of 10 years to diagnose. Speaking up early about intense period pain can help with an earlier diagnosis, which helps to avoid inappropriate and unnecessary interventions along the way.
As a vital sign, our menstrual cycle can also share information with us about the inflammatory load the body might be experiencing due to multiple factors, including stress, nutrition, movement needs, environmental exposures/toxins, and others. Food may be a significant factor to influence the intensity of the naturally heightened inflammation that develops as menstruation unfolds. It follows that what we put into our bodies is likely going to be incorporated into the building endometrial lining to be shed the following month. If these “building blocks” include more pro-inflammatory types of foods such as sugar, processed foods, and salty snacks, it seems that these endometrial-incorporated elements might heighten the intensity of the inflammatory response, and therefore, the pain.
Third, the ‘menstrual vital sign’ may tell us about the state of hormone balance or imbalance in the body. Progesterone and estrogen are two of the major hormones that play a significant role in how the menstrual cycle may be experienced each month. The link provided in the prior line gives some helpful, natural advice from a trusted expert in how you might start to shift this toward a more balanced state.
Finally, pelvic floor physical therapy may play a role in providing relief to dysmenorrhea, and my learning and work as an Arvigo® Practitioner of Maya abdominal massage provides an additional perspective on painful periods. While this evidence is more cultural/ anthropological, this abdominal massage has been used for centuries by medicine people and midwives in the Maya culture to address painful periods and other symptoms. These healers believe that if the uterus cannot attain optimal alignment and mobility within the pelvic bowl, the normal monthly release of endometrial tissue and blood will be more painful because the uterus has to work harder (read: more intense cramping) to drive the natural removal process. The uterine position may matter, as well as the amount of congestion in the pelvis, and the massage has the potential to support the issues to experience a more “tame” period.
One other note that I am drawn to include: the body contains energy. We take energy in, we use it, we lose it. On a deeper energetic level, the monthly period is a time of RELEASING. This beautiful design is the female body’s built-in wisdom for giving us the regularly opportunity to pay attention to that which we no longer need or want to hold onto. Now, please read that I am definitely not saying that fighting the release is a contributor to pain, and I am also not saying that if you are reading this and you experience intensely painful periods, that you did something to deserve them. This is not truth. Because it is in our human DNA to make meaning of our experiences, our joy and our suffering, I am offering a starting point for an opportunity to slow down and ‘lean into’ a message that your body may wish to share with you.
Share your thoughts and ideas!
If you have significantly painful periods, and you are looking for solutions, or you have found solutions – I would love to hear from you! It takes a village to heal and your healing team may include many supports including conventional medicine, eastern or other wisdom medicine practices, nutritional support, movement therapies, manual therapies, and others. Email me at email@example.com to share your story.