Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Exercise for dysmenorrhea?

July 26th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Women have long been advised that exercise is among the best pain relievers for painful periods. But a new Cochrane Review (also published in July, 2010, issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology) indicates that research confirming that advice is inconclusive.

Yet, the data on exercise and dysmenorrhea are quite limited, and only one clinical trial met review standards. The main outcome measure was the change in The MOOS Menstrual Distress Questionnaire (MDQ) after three cycles of treatment. The MDQ is commonly used in menstrual cycle research (and also commonly criticized). Exercise was found to improve MDQ scores within three cycles. This Cochrane review offers some preliminary, although not robust, evidence for the effectiveness of exercise in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.

So if exercise helps your period pain, keep it up!

5 responses to “Exercise for dysmenorrhea?”

  1. Tori says:

    Do we know if there are any studies that take into account people whose dysmenorrhea is so severe that they can’t exercise for all or part of the time that they’re cramping/bleeding?

  2. Heather D says:

    My guess is that studying that might actually involve talking to women about their reasons for or against exercising, and most of these studies never actually talk to or listen to individual women….good question, Tori.

  3. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Yes, my guess is that those who have dysmenorrhea so severe they can’t exercise would be excluded from participation in the typical study. Great question, Tori.

  4. There are two ways exercise might work. One is acutely, that is, get up and do something when you are experiencing intense pain. And I’m with you, Tori, when the cramps are bad, that’s not going to happen.

    But exercise as a regular habit may help to reduce menstrual cramps more generally, and that is what has been recommended. So, not just exercising when you feel bad, but taking up running or some other aerobically conditioning exercise, as a way of reducing symptoms (like cramps, moods, bloating). This is commonly asserted, and women report it, but there’s relatively little actually research. Jerilynn Prior published some work in the late 1980’s showing this with moods and bloating in women who were not exercising, but who started conditioning exercise (I think it was running).

    What this review says is that this common observation has not yet been demonstrated and published. Wonder who would fund it?

  5. I’ve had really terrible cramps. And I found 2 things that worked, exercise-wise:

    1) Dancing…just get up and dance (as the song goes) – first play some music you like, and just move in some way, shape or form to it. And you’re still in pain, but still keep moving; then actually start dancing – you’re still in pain, but hey, you really love that song “Walkin’ On Sunshine,” and you start getting into it, and then your pain is even less!

    I mean, it’s worked for me – I think of it as “frozen pelvis syndrome” – there you are at your desk (if you have a job like mine), just sitting a-l-l-l-l d-a-a-a-y l-o-o-o-n-n-g-g-g – sitting, sitting on your a**, staring at a computer screen….pecking away at the keyboard….only your fingers are moving…for hours at a time! And for some strange reason, you have cramps from h***!

    I’d like to see a study where dysmenorrheic women danced versus control group of “sitting women”…

    2) The other thing is the Cobra Yoga Pose – when I was really having bad cramps (which I haven’t had in a while – maybe it’s perimenoapuse?) – I would do the Cobra Yoga Pose, really slow, and just focus on breathing, which is what you do with yoga – and as I held the pose (3 or 4 times), it’s like the pain peaked – and then it went away. Completely! I had no pain. Really, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments in life, that I could stop the pain of menstrual cramps, just doing a yoga pose (I’m not being sarcastic).

    I’ll let Sly and the Family Stone have the last word, via youtube:

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