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What does period pain feel like

What does period pain feel like



What does period pain feel like

What does period pain feel like

Not all women experience pain when they menstruate – have their periods. Some pain or discomfort when you have your period is not uncommon.


What is a period?

Women have periods roughly once a month as part of the menstrual cycle and this is when they bleed from their vaginas for a day or so. Women’s menstrual cycles can vary in length from 21 to 40 days, but in most women, it is usually around 28 days long.1

During her period, the woman’s body releases hormones that make the uterus contract to expel the lining that has prepared for the possibility of her falling pregnant. It is these contractions that compress the blood vessels, that stop blood and oxygen from getting to the womb, and that can be painful. We discuss some of the causes of painful periods here.2,3

Some women have absolutely no discomfort at all during their periods while others feel a slight twinge. However, for no particular reason, some women suffer from extreme pain that can be very debilitating. Women who experience this level of pain and discomfort don’t wish this monthly experience on their worst enemies. In severe cases, girls miss school, and women miss work which can negatively impact school performance and productivity at work.4


What do menstrual cramps feel like?

The womb is a muscle, and it is this muscle that contracts during childbirth as well as when women have their periods. Period pains feel different for different women. Although most women’s periods do follow a pattern, this can also vary from intense cramps, bleeding, and pain one month, followed by lighter bleeding and less pain, the next.

Sometimes period pain is just a dull ache in your lower body and groin area which can also be in the lower back, just above your buttocks. Sometimes, though, when the uterus contracts or cramps up and then release, that comes with a sharp, stabbing pain that can spread into your thighs.


When do period pains happen?

Usually, women experience cramps just before, and on the first day or so, of their periods. When the pain is worst is also usually when the bleeding is at its most heavy.

Some women who suffer from period pains never forget what their first period was like. Mandi, now in her late 50s still remembers what her first experience of menstruating felt like:

I was at boarding school, and I “knew” about “that” time of the month. You always do when you live with other women: the older girls and my roommates were already getting their periods. I was envious that they could get sick notes when we had swimming lessons – I hated swimming. 

One afternoon, I started getting a dull ache in my lower body. At first, I ignored it and then spread it to my groin and the top of my legs. I had no idea what it was, but the ache became a wrenching pain that just got worse and worse. I felt sick and wanted to vomit. It would not stop. I just could not get comfortable: curling up with a hot water bottle didn’t help. Nor did lying on the bed with my legs raised at 90° – something I did instinctively. It was only when I felt the urge to go to the toilet and saw the blood in my panties, that I realized that my periods had arrived. For many years, heavy, painful periods were a fact of life.


What can I do to relieve period pain?

In addition to taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like Cipladon, women who experience mild period pain find it helpful to do some light physical or even relaxation exercises. Others use heating pads or hot water bottles on their tummies or backs to help with the pain.


When should I see my doctor about period pain?

Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful periods which are divided into two categories. Primary dysmenorrhea begins when the young girl starts having periods, as was the case with Mandi. Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, begins a while after the woman has started having regular periods. We discuss the primary and secondary period pain categories in more detail here and this type of period pain is usually caused by a medical condition.5

If your periods are painful, it would be sensible to consult your healthcare provider, especially if:6

  • they stop you from leading a normal life, including going to school or work and taking regular exercise
  • the pain is not helped by an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication like Cipladon
  • the bleeding is heavier than usual
  • you are more than 25 years old and have never had a painful period


Disclaimer: The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.


  1. Periods. National Health Service, UK. [Online] Available from <> 25/07/202
  2. Period Pain. National Health Service, UK [online] Available from <> 26/07/2022
  3. PMS, Cramps, and Irregular Periods. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital [Online] Available from: <> 26/07/2022
  4. Schoep ME, Adang EMM, Maas JWM, et al. 2018. Productivity loss due to menstruation-related symptoms: a nationwide cross-sectional survey among 32 748 women BMJ Open 2019;9:e026186. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026186 <> 26/07/2022
  5. Period Pain. National Health Service, UK [online] Available from <> 26/07/2022
  6. What Do Period Cramps Feel Like? Symptoms and More [Online] Available from <> 26/07/2022

Please note the content on this website is not intended to be a substitute to a medical professional consultation.