Physical Activity May Ease Painful Menstrual Periods
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Dysmenorrhea is painful lower abdominal cramps that happen with menstruation. It is caused by uterine muscle contractions. Pain may occur in the pelvis, belly, back, or legs and lead to headache and fatigue. In some women, the pain is severe enough to interfere with normal activities.
Researchers wanted to determine the effectiveness of physical activity in managing dysmenorrhea. The study, published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that physical activity may be an effective treatment for dysmenorrhea. However, there is a need for more high-quality trials before this can be confirmed.
About the study
The randomized controlled trial included 15 studies of 1,681 non-athletic women with dysmenorrhea who were not using hormonal birth control. Participants were randomly assigned to 2 groups: physical activity intervention group (aerobic exercises, stretching, yoga, and Kegel exercises) or the control group (usual care, menstrual care instructions, acupressure, or a prescription pain reliever). Follow up happened after two or more menstrual cycles about 8 to 12 weeks. Participants reported their pain using a scale. They also noted the length of time that pain was present.
Compared to the control group, the physical activity intervention group participants had:
How Does this Affect You?
A randomized trial is considered the most reliable form of research, but how the research is done will affect its reliability. For example, it was not possible to blind participants to the group to which they were assigned. This may lead to a placebo effect, where people feel better because they expected the treatment to make them feel better. This may make the treatment seem more effective than it is. However, other studies have found that exercise might decrease symptoms in women with primary dysmenorrhea. Additional high quality studies need to be done to confirm the benefits of exercise on dysmenorrhea.
The good news is that exercise has a number of health benefits so there are a number of positives from trying it out. Discomfort with your menstruation may make you feel like a nap. However, a walk or other activity may actually help you feel better. Regular activity will make it easier to get up and get going when you are having pain. Work your way up to at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for overall health. Choose something that is accessible to you and that you like doing. If the pain is regularly interfering with your daily activity and you are having trouble managing it, talk to your doctor about your options.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
Dysmenorrhea. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116170/Dysmenorrhea. Updated May 17, 2018. Accessed June 5, 2018.
Matthewman G, Lee A, et al. Physical activity for primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Apr 7.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
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