Menstrual Health

3 Stretches for When Menstrual Cramps Leave Your Uterus in Knots

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Mikael Vaisanen
For some people, menstrual hell goes beyond having a personal River Styx to include myriad aches and pains that can make it feel impossible to do anything. It's why there's a certain audacity to someone suggesting exercising on your period when PMS and period cramps have you immobilized. Nonetheless, movement can help with certain pain relief, we'll cop to that. So if a high intensity workout isn't your bag, may we suggest trying some stretches for your menstrual cramps?

"Stretching can help relax the muscles, particularly the areas that get tight and tense from cramping," says Vanessa Chu co-founder of Stretch*d. "Low back pain is common as we clench up and round forward in reaction to inflammation in the abdominal region. Stretching will improve circulation to the region, reduce tension in these muscles and eventually, relieve pain. It also affects the parasympathetic nervous system, essentially telling your brain and body to relax."

Of course, not all stretches are created equal when it comes to cramp relief. Chu recommends you side-step anything that impinges on the abdominal area, including very deep twists of forward folds. "The area is sensitive, so you want to give it space to open up and relax," she says.

The best stretches for menstrual cramps

"All of these stretches can be done before or after a workout because they are dynamic and movement based," says Chu. "Not only can they gently help warm up the muscles pre-workout and prevent injury, but they can also help flush out any lactic acid and lengthen muscles post-workout. The last thing you want is more areas of tightness post-workout. With the active repetitions, you're pumping blood flow into the muscles and helping them stay warm and relaxed."

These stretches are meant to be softer lifts, so to speak. They build in intensity over each repetition, but you shouldn't have to overexert yourself with each extension. "Just take it as far as it goes with each rep," says Chu.

1. Double Knee Hugg*r I Hamstring, Glute & Lower Back Stretch

This is an easy transition from being in the fetal position all morning, so some of you may enjoy it. "Lying on your back, bend both knees and plant the soles of the feet on the ground, slightly wider than hips distance apart," Chu says. "Gently draw the knees in wide towards the armpits, using your hands behind the thighs for assistance."

Hold this position for two to three seconds, then release and set the feet back down on the ground. Do 10 to 12 reps, and it should help relieve tension in the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.

2. Forward Reach*r | Trunk Extensors Stretch

This is a sitting stretch that can unlock the entire posterior chain, which includes your lower, mid, and upper back. It's one that you can do on the floor, your bed, a couch, or a barstool if you feel so inclined. Sit with your legs bent in front of you and your feet planted wider than hip distance apart.

"Tuck the chin and start to round forward while reaching your arms as far out as you can," Chu says. "Hold for two to three seconds before slowly rounding up."

Repeat 10 to 12 times and you'll feel that unclench.

3. Twist & Dipp*r | QL & Lower Back Stretch

This stretch is particularly beneficial if you're dealing with the pangs of lower back pain, hip tightness, and the QL muscle that runs from your abdomen to your spine. Again, this is a sitting stretch, so depending on your sitting with your feet planted firmly on the ground and slightly wider than hips distance apart.

"Interlace the fingers behind the head. With the elbows out wide, start to twist the trunk over to one side," says Chu. "Hold for two to three seconds before returning to center. Twist to the same side again about three to four times. Once the spine is warmed up, the next time you twist, start to drop the elbow outside the same side leg by leaning the torso down. Come back up, untwist."

Repeat this another three or four times, and then repeat the routine on the other side. And fingers crossed that by the end of it you'll feel un-pretzeled!

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