Period pain is a destructive force in many women’s lives.

Time off work, pressure on relationships, stopping participation in sport and hobbies are just some of the effects…not to mention the untold suffering from the pain itself.

What can you do?

Many of my female clients report pain during their periods (also called dysmenorrhea) or an exacerbation of their chronic pelvic pain or vulvar pain. But what can you do about it, aside from the all-too-common “solution” of going on the Pill, or over-relying on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and risking their significant side effects?

In a word: herbs.

I’m sorry to sound simplistic, but I’ve seen herbal medicine work so often for painful periods that I’m pretty black and white about this. Try herbs for period pain. Especially before you resort to the Pill – or if you want to get off the Pill, but are worried about your period pain returning.

But don’t take it from me. Let’s look at what the studies say.

Yes, there is research supporting it to silence the naysayers.

Promising results for herbal medicine in dysmenorrhea were found by a 2008 Cochrane systematic review (considered one of the highest levels of evidence in medicine).

A 2011 study showed effectiveness of the herb Valerian for dysmenorrhea, probably due to anti-spasmodic effects.

corydalis

The herb Corydalis is the most common herb used in Taiwan for dysmenorrhea – used in one-third of prescriptions for period pain for women aged 13-25. Analgesic effects were confirmed in a 2010 study. Corydalis is one of the most common herbs I use as well – not just for dysmenorrhea, but other forms of visceral pain or neuropathic pain.

A 2012 study showed that ginger for dysmenorrhea was more effective than placebo in reducing severity and duration of period pain. It was most effective when started 2 days before the onset of bleeding.

ginger

And you don’t have to take it all month long.

The great thing about herbs for dysmenorrhea is that they can be used “lazily” – that is, just reserved for use during your periods. Unlike herbal formulas for many other conditions, which I usually get people to take twice per day on an ongoing basis, herbs for painful periods work even when just used at the time of the pain.

A recent example is a client of 17, who I had been seeing for persistent vulvar and urethral pain and dyspareunia (painful sex), and a diagnosis of vulvodynia and vaginismus. This is one of my many patients where physiotherapy has formed only a small component of the treatment, largely being nutritional therapy. This young lady experienced period pain that she described as “like someone shooting knives up me” , and a “constant burn in the back passage” . She would get extreme cramps in the abdomen, anus (like proctalgia fugax) and down her legs. This would start within one hour of her bleeding. She described herself as feeling “borderline suicidal” from the pain.

The next month she used a herbal combination of corydalis, ginger and some other herbs. The difference was startling. She had no pain at all during her period. No pain, period. (Pardon the pun.)

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