Stretches For Period Cramps: Can They Help?

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March 15, 2023

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If you have a menstrual cycle, you’ll know how that time of the month can often throw a spanner in the works when it comes to your capacity to thrive and feel your best. 

It’s natural for your energy levels to dip during the luteal phase of your cycle as you get closer to the menstrual phase or period, and many people also experience other symptoms like cramps and muscle aches - either in the days leading up to their period or during the first couple of days of menstruation. 

Period cramps, also known as primary dysmenorrhea, are caused by the uterus contracting and can range from slightly uncomfortable to extremely painful. Although they’re caused by the uterus and often felt in the pelvis or belly areas, it’s also common to feel aches, pain or discomfort in other parts of your body such as your back and legs.

If cramps are interfering with your ability to enjoy your day-to-day life, it’s definitely worth seeing your healthcare professional for advice. If your period cramps aren’t too severe but you’re looking for a way to ease the tension, stretches and yoga can be a great option, as well as learning how to best move your body throughout each stage of your cycle.

What do the experts and research say? 

One 2019 study comparing the effects of aerobic exercise and yoga on premenstrual syndrome concluded that aerobic exercise and yoga movements are both effective ways of treating symptoms of PMS, finding yoga to be the more effective option. 

A randomised controlled trial from 2017 aimed to investigate the effects of yoga on menstrual pain, physical fitness and quality of life of women with menstrual cramps, and there were significant improvements in all three categories for those in the yoga group compared to the control group.

Another trial from 2016 involving undergraduate students with primary dysmenorrhea drew similar conclusions, with significant reductions in menstrual pain intensity and distress for the experimental yoga group compared to the control group. 

John Hopkins Medicine has also highlighted the benefits of yoga for increasing mental and physical energy, easing pain, improving mobility in people with lower back pain, reducing negative feelings, and preparing the body to fall and stay asleep.

Alongside the pain-reducing benefits of yoga, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out that yoga can boost your overall levels of relaxation, which can support better quality sleep and mental wellbeing, too. If you experience PMS symptoms such as headaches, constipation, diarrhoea or nausea, gentle stretches may also help to alleviate some of the discomfort.

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Which stretches or yoga poses are best for period cramps?

Before we dive into a few of the best stretches that can help to reduce cramps and muscle tension during your menstrual cycle, the main thing is to listen to your body and approach your stretches with gentleness and curiosity. 

Ease into each position, see how it feels for your body and make adjustments as you go. Stretching to ease cramps is less about pushing your body to boost your flexibility, and more about embracing a practice that promotes relaxation and release.

Some days, holding a static stretch for several minutes while breathing deeply might feel most nourishing. On other days, you might want to include some slow rocking or swaying to encourage blood flow, relax further into the stretch or give your body a massage. Incorporating stretches in your routine to ease period cramps can also be a short practice or a full hour-long session. For added comfort and support, you may want to have pillows, blankets or yoga bolsters nearby.

Stretches are best done when your body is already warm, so if you’re feeling stiff or cold, a bath or shower can be a great way to begin. You could also take a short walk if you’re feeling up to it. When it comes to the specifics of your stretches, it’s best to focus on those that will increase circulation and blood flow to the areas where you feel discomfort, or release tension in the surrounding muscles. 

For those with conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, it’s best to consult your healthcare professional for advice, as movement may exacerbate your symptoms. Likewise, if stretching makes you feel worse or rest is what your body needs most - do that!

Here are some of the best stretches for period cramps. Move through them at whatever pace feels best for your body, and feel free to hold each pose for however long feels good as you take some deep breaths.

Exercise: Cat Cow - Chontel Duncan

Cat-cow - Chakravakasana

Cat-cow can offer a great stretch for your back, abdomen, hips, shoulders and neck. 

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.

  2. Slowly look towards the sky, arching your back to drop your belly towards and ground and push your hips up. This is known as the cow position.

  3. Slowly reverse the movement, curling your back to push your spine towards the sky, tilting your head and neck to look towards the ground. Think about tucking your tailbone and drawing your belly button towards your spine. This is known as the cat position.

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Reclined goddess pose - Supta Baddha Konasana

Enjoy this pose when you need a great hip-opening stretch. 

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your arms by your sides or above your head.

  2. Let your knees fall open with your feet touching in the middle.

  3. Breathe deeply and relax into the stretch. You can also place a pillow or yoga bolster under your knees, head or back for extra support. 

Exercise: Childs Pose - Sjana Elise

Child’s pose - Balasana

One of the most well-known yoga postures can be a good way to ease cramps, too! Child’s pose offers a stretch for your pelvis, belly and hips, as well as easing tension in your back, shoulders and neck. 

  1. Start with your knees on the floor, then spread your knees outwards, keeping your feet together underneath you. 

  2. Fold your torso forward in between your knees, with your hands on the floor outstretched in front of you. 

  3. If you have the flexibility and it feels comfortable, you can rest your forehead on the mat as you take a few deep breaths. 

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Reclining or supine twist - Supta Matsyendrasana

This stretch is all about generating movement in your torso and pelvic region to offer relief from any cramps or digestive discomfort, but it’s definitely one to ease into gently and slowly. Only twist as far as feels comfortable.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs outstretched and your arms by your sides.

  2. Bend your right knee towards your chest, then lower your right knee towards the floor on the left side of your body, creating a nice twisting stretch for your torso and back. 

  3. Look towards the right side and reach both arms out wide, or even hold your bent knee with the opposite hand for support as you take some deep breaths. 

  4. Slowly come back to the starting position with both legs outstretched, then repeat on the other side.

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Legs up the wall - Viparita Karani

When was the last time you flipped your legs upside down? According to Cleveland Clinic, inverting your legs can improve circulation, reduce swelling and help you to de-stress. 

  1. Sit sideways next to a wall with your legs outstretched, then carefully lie down on your back as you lift your legs into the air until they are vertical and leaning against the wall. 

  2. Lie with your arms by your sides, outstretched away from your body or on your belly - whatever feels best as you breathe deeply. 

Exercise: Abs Stretch - Kayla Itsines

Upward-facing dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Want to release the tension in your shoulders, torso and back? Try out upward-facing dog! 

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight and your feet together.

  2. Place your hands and forearms flat on the mat by your shoulders.

  3. Push up through your hands to lift your torso, shoulders and head off the mat. 

  4. For less of a stretch, lower down to rest on your forearms - this is known as cobra pose. For more of a stretch, look towards the sky or think about drawing your shoulder blades back and down as you breathe deeply.

Exercise: Knees To Chest - Kayla Itsines

Knees to chest - Apanasana

This pose can feel very soothing - it’s like giving yourself a big hug!

  1. Lie on your back with your legs outstretched, then slowly pull both knees into your chest and hold your shins with your hands to support and steady yourself.

  2. You can hold this as a stationary pose, or for some additional movement, rock gently from side to side to massage your back or create small circular motions with your knees. 

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Forward fold - Uttanasana

When you’re feeling the tension in your back or hamstrings, a forward fold can feel amazing to stretch out those muscles. 

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, then hinge at the hips and slowly lean your torso forward over your legs.

  2. Depending on your flexibility, you might be able to touch the floor or hold the backs of your legs, but it may feel more comfortable to simply hang while holding your elbows. 

  3. For some additional movement, you can sway gently from side to side. 

  4. You can also perform a forward fold from a seated position.

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Happy baby - Ananda Balasana

As silly as this pose might feel, it’s a great stretch for your hips, pelvis, arms and back. 

  1. Lie on your back, then bring your knees towards your chest, holding onto your shins or feet depending on your flexibility and what feels best. 

  2. While holding on, gently spread your knees apart until they’re wider than your torso. 

  3. Hold in a static position or add movement by gently rocking from side to side.

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Corpse pose - Savasana

This pose doesn’t involve any movement at all, it’s simply about boosting your sense of relaxation, enjoying the feeling of having your whole body outstretched, and finding some inner calm. 

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs outstretched and your arms by your sides, palms facing up. 

  2. Focus on relaxing your body. It can help to perform a body scan, where you relax each part of your body, one part at a time, from your head to your toes. 

  3. Feeling discomfort around your neck, back or legs? You can add a pillow or yoga bolster under any of these areas for extra support.

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As common as period cramps might be, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to ease the discomfort, and these yoga postures can go a long way towards relaxing your body and mind.

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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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