Experiencing cramps after your period can catch you off guard. Some discomfort following your monthly visit can be expected, and just comes with the territory of menstruating. But, experiencing cramps after a period frequently could be cause for concern—or be totally normal.
“Cramping before and during a period can be normal when mild,” explains Beth Rackow, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center and medical advisor at Allara. Similarly, “cramping after a period is not always serious. Cramping that is tolerable without medication, or that responds to over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and Tylenol, is not concerning.”
Still, it can be difficult to tell what’s “normal.” Luckily, there are a few things to consider: “I like to think of the severity of the symptoms number one, and then two, the frequency with which it occurs,” explains Khara Simpson, M.D., assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins department of obstetrics and gynecology. “So if it’s happening all the time, there may actually be something treatable that can help.” Dr. Simpson reiterates that if the severity of cramps interrupts daily activities, there may be some sort of underlying cause.
If you’re experiencing cramps after your period, we’re sharing some common causes. Plus, when to see a doctor, and how to find at-home relief.
What causes cramps after your period?
There are a few reasons for experiencing cramps after a period:
Some women experience a bit of pain and cramping with ovulation. When ovaries release an egg and that egg begins to travel down into the uterus, you are ovulating, the Mayo Clinic explains. Dr. Rackow notes that this type of cramping “typically occurs seven to 10 days after the end of menstruation.” Additionally, Dr. Simpson explains pain with ovulation tends to occur in women who have shorter cycles or women who experience their period every three weeks or less.
While infections, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or sexually transmitted infection, typically “causes a different [more constant] type of pain,” according to Dr. Rackhow, these are things that should still be considered. Oftentimes, infections “are going to come along with cramping, but they may also come along with some abnormal vaginal discharge,” and pain with sexual intercourse, Dr. Simpson notes.
Both experts agree that endometriosis is a possible cause of cramping after your period, along with cramping during your period. Endometriosis is a condition in which the uterine tissue grows outside (rather than inside) the uterus, causing menstrual pain and even fertility issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms associated include “pelvic pain with or without menses, pain with intercourse, and abnormal uterine bleeding,” explains Dr. Rackhow.
Adenomyosis, or the condition in which uterine tissue grows into muscular walls of the uterus, causing enlargement of the uterus, can also be a cause of cramping after a period, per the Cleveland Clinic. Additional symptoms someone with adenomyosis may experience include “heavy menstrual bleeding, intermenstrual bleeding, bloating, and pelvic discomfort,” says Dr. Rackhow.
Likely a less common cause, but a possibility nonetheless, is ovarian cysts. Someone in their child-bearing years (typically under age 50) can form cysts on their ovaries, and “the pain people experience with ovulation is usually the rupture of that cyst,” explains Dr. Simpson. However, this pain doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to directly after a period. Dr. Rackhow notes that “pelvic fullness, cramping, pressure on the bladder or bowel, pain with intercourse,” all are other symptoms associated with ovarian cysts.
If you experience irregular periods, meaning you don’t get your period at the same time every month or the length of your cycle is not consistent, Dr. Simpson suggests taking a pregnancy test if you could be pregnant, “because that bleeding can represent implantation and not necessarily a period.”
“A urinary tract infection can also cause cramping,” explains Dr. Simpson. With a bladder infection, you also will typically experience pain with urination, as well as blood or slight discoloration of your urine.
Bowel infections (gastroenteritis) or irritable bowel syndrome can also present cramping after a period, according to Dr. Simpson. With these come inflammation of the bowel, which leads to cramping in addition to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
When to see a doctor for cramps after your period
Reasons to see a provider regarding period cramps or cramps after a period “include severe cramping that starts within a few months of one’s first period, cramping that does not respond to treatment with ibuprofen/tylenol (or other over-the-counter therapies), cramps that become worse over time, and cramps turns into pain in-between periods,” explains Dr. Rackhow.
To be clear: if you experience pain that keeps you from doing daily activities like going to work or school, going to bed, or if you are dependent on medications—you should see your doctor.
If you’re feeling hesitant to see your doctor for any cramping or other period-related issues, don’t be: “It’s safe to just see your doctor if you have questions,” says Dr. Simpson. “I encourage all patients regardless of whether your periods are painful or not to make sure you're doing your routine care,” (i.e. a once-per-year gynecological visit).
How to find relief from cramping
First, it might help to understand exactly what you’re treating. “A period is a time of inflammation,” explains Dr. Simpson. “And that is typically what causes the cramping, and that's what usually people are treating when they have cramping.”
If you experience the occasional cramps after a period (or during your period) that are not severe, and you’re looking for some relief, there are a few at-home tips and tricks you can try out.
Dr. Rackhow recommends a few things, including:
Taking scheduled doses of over-the-counter pain meds (i.e. every six hours, to stay ahead of the discomfort)
Taking pain medication prior to the onset of the period
Using a heating pad,
Dr. Simpson adds that warm baths, yoga, and avoiding inflammatory foods (like dairy, sugar, and gluten) can be helpful in reducing cramps, too.
What should period cramps feel like?
Even the type of pain you might feel during and around your period may have you wondering if there should be cause for concern. “Cramps are commonly felt in the midline lower pelvic area, and sometimes the discomfort radiates to the lower back, hips, and thighs,” says Dr. Rackhow. “There is a wide range of pain symptoms reported including pulsing, stabbing, aching, and burning quality pain.”
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