Exercises for Period Cramp Pain Relief: What Physical Therapists Recommend

Learn the benefits of exercise during your period, and the best exercises physical therapists recommend for cramp relief.

Published Date: Oct 16, 2023
woman-in-a-yoga-position

Exercises for Period Cramp Pain Relief: What Physical Therapists Recommend

Learn the benefits of exercise during your period, and the best exercises physical therapists recommend for cramp relief.

Published Date: Oct 16, 2023
woman-in-a-yoga-position

Exercises for Period Cramp Pain Relief: What Physical Therapists Recommend

Learn the benefits of exercise during your period, and the best exercises physical therapists recommend for cramp relief.

Published Date: Oct 16, 2023
woman-in-a-yoga-position

Exercises for Period Cramp Pain Relief: What Physical Therapists Recommend

Learn the benefits of exercise during your period, and the best exercises physical therapists recommend for cramp relief.

Published Date: Oct 16, 2023
woman-in-a-yoga-position
Table of Contents

Your head hurts. So do your breasts. Your lower back aches and it feels like a baby elephant is sitting on your uterus. The only thing you want to do is decide on which side of the couch to assume the fetal position. But before you curl your body into a ball, consider this: exercise — not inactivity — helps provide period cramp relief. And if that’s not news to you, this may be: There's no clear benefit to syncing specific workouts to your menstrual cycle. And there doesn't appear to be any risk associated with certain exercises during your period. The best form of physical activity during your period is, quite simply, the one you feel like doing. Read on to learn about what causes period cramps, the benefits of exercise during your period, and how pelvic floor physical therapy can help provide period pain relief.

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

Our Hinge Health Experts

Amanda Welter, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Welter is a Hinge Health Physical Therapist with special interests in pelvic pain, pregnancy/postpartum, and menopausal support.
Tamara Grisales, MD
Expert Physician in Urogynecology and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Grisales is a board-certified urogynecologist and surgeon and oversees the Women's Pelvic Health program at Hinge Health.
Kandis Daroski, PT, DPT
Pelvic Health Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Daroski is a pelvic health physical therapist who provides clinical expertise for the Hinge Health Women's Pelvic Health Program.

What Causes Period Cramps?  

Hormone-like substances — called prostaglandins — are to blame. During the first part of your menstrual cycle, your body releases hormones that cause the uterus lining to thicken to prepare it for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, the lining breaks down and sheds. That’s your period — and that’s where prostaglandins come in. These natural chemicals trigger muscle contractions in your uterus to help shed the lining, which causes that elephant-on-your-uterus feeling. On the first day or two of your period, prostaglandin levels are high, so cramps tend to be more severe. As the lining of the uterus sheds over the next few days, prostaglandin levels decrease, as does the period pain.

Painful period cramps may also be related to certain health conditions. In these situations, the pain may begin a few days before your period starts, get more severe as your period continues, and persist even after it ends. Conditions that can lead to this type of menstrual pain include:

  • Endometriosis. This condition occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus (called the endometrium) grows outside of it, such as on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, behind the uterus or on the bladder. Like the lining of the uterus, this tissue breaks down and bleeds in response to changes in hormones, which can cause pain, especially around the time of a period.

  • Fibroids. These noncancerous growths that form in the wall of the uterus are usually painless, but can sometimes cause pain.

  • Adenomyosis. A condition that develops when the tissue that normally lines your uterus begins to grow into the muscle wall of the uterus.

Benefits of Exercise During Your Period

Exercise helps reduce menstrual pain better than inactivity. Research is ongoing, but studies show a significant reduction in pain intensity when compared with no exercise. Exactly how exercise helps relieve period cramps is still a little unclear. Physical activity may help decrease prostaglandins, the chemicals that trigger cramping and cause menstrual pain. Exercise also releases mood-boosting endorphins, improves blood flow, and promotes relaxation — all of which may contribute to period pain relief. Exercise intensity during your period depends on your preference and what feels most comfortable to you. Whether you choose to walk or stick to gentle stretches during your period or prefer higher-intensity workouts like running or lifting weights, exercise can help:  

  • Relieve painful period cramps

  • Improve energy levels

  • Boost your mood

  • Decrease water retention to help reduce bloating

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy for Painful Period Cramps  

Your pelvic floor is made up of layers of muscles, ligaments, and fascia (connective tissue) that stretch like a hammock from your pubic bone to your tailbone. Just like other muscles in your body, your pelvic floor muscles can get too tight. When the muscles contract, it can cause pain and other symptoms. During your period, tense pelvic floor muscles can contribute to menstrual pain. Pelvic floor physical therapists (PTs) can provide relaxation exercises and techniques to reduce tension and trigger points in the pelvic floor and surrounding fascia to help relieve cramps. There are many exercises that can help relax pelvic floor muscles. These exercises are most effective when you coordinate them with your breathing. Your diaphragm (the muscle that sits on top of your rib cage) and your pelvic floor (at the bottom of your core) move together. When you inhale, your diaphragm moves down. At the same time, your pelvic floor drops and lengthens. Focus on breathing down into your pelvic floor when you inhale and picture the muscle descending to help enhance the stretch. 

Exercises to Ease Period Cramp Pain

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • Cat Cow
  • Kneeling Adductor Stretch
  • Child’s Pose (With Side Bend)
  • Seal Stretch

The above exercises recommended by our Hinge Health pelvic floor physical therapist are a great way to relax pelvic floor muscles to help ease period pain.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Other Ways to Find Period Pain Relief

Hormonal contraceptives and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are often recommended for period pain and symptom flares. These are often very effective but they can come with some side effects. And they’re not the only answer. In addition to exercise, and depending on your symptoms, your pelvic floor physical therapist or healthcare provider may also recommend:

  • Heat. Soaking in a warm bath or using a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower abdomen might ease menstrual cramps.

  • Sleep. When you don’t get enough, period pain may feel more intense.

  • Relaxation techniques. Progressive muscle relaxation or meditation can help reduce period pain.

  • Complementary treatments. Talk to your provider if you’re interested in trying alternative treatments for period pain relief, such as acupuncture or trigger point release therapy.

PT Tip: Don’t ‘Just Put Up With’ Period Pain

For some, period cramps are merely annoying. For others, they can be severe enough to interfere with daily life. “You don’t have to just live with it,” says Amanda Welter, PT, DPT, a Hinge Health pelvic floor physical therapist. “And you don’t have to feel as though you are fragile during your period. We know any type of movement can help with period pain. Listen to your body, and engage in the exercises that feel best for you.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have pelvic pain or symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, you can get the relief you've been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

$0 Cost to you

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Join more than 800K members and over 1,700 companies that trust Hinge Health to get relief.

References

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020, December). Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. Www.acog.org. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/dysmenorrhea-painful-periods

  2. Armour, M., Ee, C. C., Naidoo, D., Ayati, Z., Chalmers, K. J., Steel, K. A., de Manincor, M. J., & Delshad, E. (2019). Exercise for dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9.doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004142.pub4

  3. Bernardi, M., Lazzeri, L., Perelli, F., Reis, F. M., & Petraglia, F. (2017). Dysmenorrhea and related disorders. F1000Research, 6, 1645. doi:10.12688/f1000research.11682.1

  4. Dehnavi, Z., Jafarnejad, F., & Kamali, Z. (2018). The Effect of aerobic exercise on primary dysmenorrhea: A clinical trial study. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 7(1), 3. doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp_79_17

  5. Deodato, M., Grosso, G., Drago, A., Martini, M., Dudine, E., Murena, L., & Buoite Stella, A. (2023). Efficacy of manual therapy and pelvic floor exercises for pain reduction in primary dysmenorrhea: A prospective observational study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 36, 185–191. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2023.07.002

  6. Finan, P. H., Goodin, B. R., & Smith, M. T. (2013). The Association of Sleep and Pain: An Update and a Path Forward. The Journal of Pain, 14(12), 1539–1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007

  7. Jo, J., & Lee, S. H. (2018). Heat therapy for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of its effects on pain relief and quality of life. Scientific Reports, 8(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-34303-z

  8. López-Liria, R., Torres-Álamo, L., Vega-Ramírez, F. A., García-Luengo, A. V., Aguilar-Parra, J. M., Trigueros-Ramos, R., & Rocamora-Pérez, P. (2021). Efficacy of Physiotherapy Treatment in Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(15), 7832. doi:10.3390/ijerph18157832

  9. Painful Menstrual Periods. (2021). American Family Physician, 104(2), online–online. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0800/p164-s1.html