Why do people get cramps in the first place
When you have your period, your uterus contracts to help get rid of the lining that has built up over the past few weeks. Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which are also involved in pain and inflammation, trigger those contractions, explains Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando.
The amount of prostaglandins in your body can vary and, when they’re high, you can have more severe period cramps, Dr. Greves says. While some discomfort during your period is expected, excessive pain isn't normal and should be explored.
So, why would you get tampon cramping and discomfort
This is a little tricky. Period cramps come from contractions in your uterus, and you insert a tampon into your vagina, which is the muscular canal that goes from your vulva (your external genital area) to the bottom of your uterus, i.e. your cervix, Dr. Greves says. Meaning, the tampon doesn’t even touch your uterus.
“There is probably a confounding variable when you feel cramps after you insert a tampon,” Dr. Greves says. “The cramps are occurring because you’re on your period—it’s unlikely that the tampon itself is causing them.”
However, there could be something else going on that’s causing you to feel pain when you insert a tampon that you may be mistaking for cramps, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. A few possibilities:
- The tampon is too big. There’s really no biological reason that a tampon could uterine cramps. However, Dr. Greves says, “if the tampon is too large, it could cause discomfort.” So, there’s a chance that you may misinterpret that as cramps.
- You've inserted the tampon incorrectly. Much like inserting a tampon that's too large, you might feel some discomfort if your tampon isn't far enough inside of you. While this shouldn't cause cramping—it can cause some discomfort and pain. With clean hands, gently push a tampon into your vagina and push the tampon up. If the tampon isn’t far enough inside of you, you can use your finger to gently nudge further inside of you.
- You have vulvodynia. This is a condition that causes pain in the vulva that lasts for three months or more and is not caused by an infection, skin disorder, or other medication condition, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Vulvodynia can cause symptoms like burning, stinging, irritation, rawness, throbbing, and swelling. The symptoms can come and go, and they may happen only when the area is touched, ACOG says. Dr. Greves says it’s possible to have pain that feels like cramps after you insert a tampon if you happen to have vulvodynia.
- It’s due to vaginismus. This is a condition that causes reflexive tightening of the muscles at the end of your vagina, ACOG explains. It can cause pain when you try to have sex and can also leave you uncomfortable when you try to insert a tampon, Dr. Greves says. It’s possible that those “cramps” you’re feeling are actually the muscles of your vagina tightening due to this condition, she says.
- You have endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition that happens when tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows outside of it, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health. Endometriosis, which can impact more than 11 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44, can cause symptoms like very painful period cramps, pain during or after sex, bleeding or spotting between periods, infertility, and digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, or bloating. Endometriosis usually flares when you have your period, Dr. Minkin says. “If you insert something [like a tampon], that could put pressure on some endometriosis tissue, leading to pain,” she says.
What to do if you notice you have cramps after inserting a tampon
If it’s more of a random thing that you’ve noticed but it’s not bothering you at all, Dr. Greves says you can bring it up at your next check-in with your provider.
But, if you’re having cramping after you insert a tampon and it’s uncomfortable or even debilitating, Dr. Minkin suggests reaching out to your doctor to get checked out. It may simply be that you’re noticing regular period cramps after you put in a tampon or there could be something else going on. Either way, you shouldn’t have to live with pain.
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