Do you buy SUPER-SIZED bottles of Midol at Costco or BJ’s for monthly menstrual pain? Other solutions do exist, but one must think outside of the pill bottle.
When it comes to menstrual pain, the majority rules. If you suffer from cramps or other menstrual pains such as backache, sharp pains in the abdomen or thighs, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and a feeling of tenseness, you are not alone. This condition of unruly symptoms during the menstrual period, called dysmenorrhea (Greek for painful menstruation), affects up to 79% of women in some populations.[i]
Primary dysmenorrhea is the type that tends to come on shortly after puberty and has no obvious medical cause. Secondary dysmenorrhea usually comes on later in life, after a woman has not had menstrual pain previously, and usually has a physical cause (fibroids, polyps, etc.). The focus of discussion in this article will be on primary dysmenorrhea.
Many choices for treatment exist after a woman, with the help of a properly trained medical professional, determines whether or not she suffers from the primary or secondary form. Secondary dysmenorrhea, which has many possible causes, typically requires management from a gynecologist. However, much can be done holistically to deal with primary dysmenorrhea.
Medical treatment of primary dysmenorrhea includes heating pads, rest, aerobic exercise, and drugs. Nutritional recommendations include a well-balanced diet with a calcium intake of 1200 mg/day. A fluid intake of two quarts per day is also emphasized.[ii]
Due to the role that prostaglandin levels play in primary dysmenorrhea, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or similar chemicals are recommended over-the-counter or are prescribed for their prostaglandin-lowering effects. Besides being a correct answer requiring the use of two life lines when facing Regis Philbin, prostaglandins are substances produced naturally in the body that stimulate contraction of the uterus and other smooth muscles. Other medical treatments may include hormonal manipulation with oral contraceptives (“the pill”). This medical intervention prevents ovulation and results in fewer prostaglandins. Lowering prostaglandin levels with drugs may provide symptomatic relief, which at times may be needed, but fails to address why the elevation has occurred in the first place!
Why should drug interventions be used with extreme caution and as a last resort? Like their stronger prescription counterparts, over-the-counter medications may cause severe adverse reactions. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic report that the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause membranous nephropathy, a common cause of kidney disease called nephrotic syndrome. Aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) have been implicated in the development of other forms of kidney disease as well.[iii] Furthermore, NSAID use is strongly associated with an increased risk of both upper and lower gastrointestinal perforation.[iv] “There is an epidemic of adverse drug reactions to NSAID's. The Food and Drug Administration believes anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 deaths each year are the result of severe bleeding caused by NSAID's. It is a big problem."[v] There may be a time and place for pharmaceutical intervention, but all safer forms of care should first be exhausted.
For many women, chiropractic spinal adjustments can help bring manageable, pain-free periods. The nervous system controls all parts of the body, including those responsible for menstruation. The chiropractic focus is to alleviate interference in the nervous system (caused by spinal misalignments) by “adjusting” the bones of the spinal column.
Research examining the effect of chiropractic spinal adjustments on pain and prostaglandin levels in women with primary dysmenorrhea was performed. In a test group of 45 subjects, 24 were assigned to the experimental group that received chiropractic adjustments, and 21 were in control group where they received a "sham" adjustment. The authors found that immediately after care, the perception of pain and the level of menstrual distress were significantly reduced in the experimental group. It was suggested that further studies be conducted over a longer time frame.[vi]
Another study of eleven participants found that 24.6% demonstrated a vertebral displacement at the first lumbar segment, 45.5% at the second lumbar segment, 54.6% at the third lumbar segment, 63.7% at the fourth lumbar segment, and 63.7% at the fifth lumbar segment. Eight subjects that received spinal adjustments showed an 88% decrease in the symptom severity determined by the grade of disability and pain. The authors indicated that spinal adjustments should be seriously considered as an alternative conservative form of care for women suffering from primary dysmenorrhea.[vii]
Perhaps the most shocking perception held by women regarding menstrual pain is that it is “normal.” It is as if suffering is a female right of passage at the point of puberty. This belief’s greatest harm is that it often prevents women from searching for a better quality of life. Solutions can take time to find and may not fall under the medical doctor’s umbrella. It is the vision of the modern chiropractic profession that people look beyond the chiropractic stereotype of being great back doctors. Chiropractic is about helping the body perform the way it was born to… optimally and without “normal” pains! This can only happen when the nervous system is free to control and coordinate all of the billions of cells within the human body.
When “that” time of the month arrives, several choices exist: SUPER-SIZED bottles and settling for what is accepted as “normal” or a truly natural solution. If the cause of primary dysmenorrhea is due to spinal nerve interference, chiropractic care may be the only track leading to a better quality of life.
[i] Soc Sci Med 1989;29(2):163-9
[iii] Radford MG Jr; Holley KE; Grande JP; Larson TS; Wagoner RD; Donadio JV; McCarthy JT. Reversible membranous nephropathy associated with the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. JAMA 1996; 276(6): 466-9
[iv] Lanas A; Serrano P; BaJador E; Esteva F; Benito R; Sjainz R. Evidence of aspirin use in both upper and lower gastrointestinal perforation. Gastroenterology 1997;112(3):683-9
[v] Dr. James F. Fries. Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. in Marsa L. "America's Other Drug Problem," Los Angeles Times Magazine, September 29, 1996.
[vi] Kokjohn K, Schmid DM, Triano JJ, Brennan PC: "The effect of spinal manipulation on pain and prostaglandin levels in women with primary dysmenorrhea." JMPT 1992 15(5):279.
[vii] Thomason P; Fisher B; Carpenter P; Fike G; Effectiveness of spinal manipulative therapy in treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: A pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1979; 2: 140-5