Period Pain, medically known as dysmenorrhea, is when a woman experiences pain before and/or during and sometimes after menstruation.

The prevalence of dysmenorrhoea amongst women worldwide is huge. It is difficult to find accurate and consistent statistics because the definition of pain associated with the menstrual cycle is very broad, but in my clinic setting the majority of the women I see are experiencing or have experienced some level of pain or discomfort associated with their period. If they have not experienced it themselves they are sure to know other women who do.

For many, period pain can be a debilitating experience, necessitating taking days off school or work.

Some of the symptoms of dysmenorrhea are:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Back pain
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

What exactly is period pain? Why does it happen? ...

Let's start with some physiology. There are 2 types of dysmenorrhea, Primary and Secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is when there is no specific known pathological cause, whereas Secondary dysmenorrhea is used to describe the period pain that is the result of another condition, such as endometriosis.

So let's focus on primary dysmenorrhea, which is what the majority of women on the planet are experiencing on a monthly basis.

When in harmony, our body will release just the right amount of hormone-like fatty acids known as prostaglandins to assist the uterus in contracting and releasing the blood lining from its walls every month, which is what we call our period. This happens if the egg that has been released mid-way through the menstrual cycle, at ovulation time, has not been fertilized and therefore no pregnancy has occurred.

The release of prostaglandins is then triggered to initiate the release of the blood. The delicate interplay of hormone response and release throughout our period cycles is nothing short of amazing ... something that we will explore in coming articles!

So when there is an imbalance in the body, the hormones and chemical responses will be affected and so will the menstrual cycle in one way or another. Period pain can occur when there is an increase in the release of prostaglandins or an increased sensitivity to the prostaglandins in the uterus, causing it to contract more than may be necessary to release the lining, therefore resulting in pain.

When you are experiencing period pain, your body is simply showing you that there is an imbalance somewhere. Stress, anxiety, food reactions and other medical conditions, to name just a few, may be associated with the imbalance in the body.

Our body is not the enemy – in fact, it is always working with us to find its most harmonious and natural state of being. The pain is simply one of its ways of communicating a dis-harmony.

Based on the statistics and anecdotal evidence of women worldwide, the fact is the majority of women are experiencing period pain in one form or another throughout their lifetime ... so what is it that is truly going on here?

If we start with the above physiological processes of our body, perhaps we are being communicated via the ‘period pain’ that we are living with or accepting a degree of dis-harmony that we then call ‘normal’? ... What if we are defining such pain as ‘normal’ because so many women experience it, rather than exploring more deeply how we are living that could be causing the dis-harmony?

Period pain is common, but it does not have to be what we accept as ‘normal’ and therefore ‘ok’. In otherwords, we need to not ignore the warning messages that our body is giving us with ideas like - we just have to 'put up with it' because that's ‘just what happens’ to girls.

Period Pain is part of our body’s incredible intelligence to alert us to something that is out of balance.

Perhaps our focus on ‘stop the pain’ is keeping us from truly understanding what is really causing an imbalance and dis-harmony in the body, and the period pain a lot of women are experiencing.

Filed under

Women's healthHuman bodyMenstrual cycleMenstrual pain

  • By Sara Harris, Bachelor Health Science (TCM) (Hons), Graduate Diploma Counselling, Diploma Remedial Massage, Natural Fertility Education

    Sara has a strong interest in girls and women's health and wellbeing. She works from her established complementary medicine clinic in Melbourne, Living Stillness and is the founder of The Girl to Woman Project.