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Complementary Treatments: Nutrition, Exercise, Heat, and Touch

DOCTOR’S ORDERS

To try heat therapy:

  • Apply moderate heat to your lower abdomen for six to eight hours. To do that, use a hot water bottle, warm towel, or a newer device called ThermaCare, a heating pad that doesn’t use electricity (it uses a chemical reaction to basically rust itself into a hot state). The pad remains hot for eight hours and you can wear it under your clothes, which is helpful if you’re at school.
  • Don’t use an electric heating pad: It could cause a fire, and we don’t fully understand the damage that electromagnetic fields may inflict on cells.

Massage and Therapeutic Touch. “Here we go again,” you’re thinking now. “When I’m having cramps, the last thing I want is for anybody to touch me.” Still, some patients report that massage and a technique called therapeutic touch, developed in the early 1970s by a nurse at New York University, can help increase relaxation and reduce pain, or at least the perception of pain. Many doctors are skeptical about how effective these techniques are, because no rigorous scientific evidence supports it, but some patients swear by them.

To try these therapies: Locate massage or therapeutic touch practitioners specifically trained to ease period pain. To find reputable practitioners, ask around for recommendations. Some more progressive doctors’ offices or insurance companies may be able to refer you.

Meditation, Hypnosis, and Guided Imagery. Studies say these relaxation techniques can reduce pain and suffering and speed recovery for open-heart surgery patients. If it helps with cardiac patients, it probably can’t hurt with your cramps. These techniques involve taking yourself through mental and physical steps that help you relax and deal with pain. To try it, find a practitioner trained or certified in complementary or alternative medicine, or a certified practitioner of hypnosis. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis has a list of certified hypnotherapists at www.asch.net. And many psychologists, therapists, and practitioners of alternative or complementary medicine are trained in these techniques. After a few sessions with an experienced practitioner, you’ll be able to do this for yourself. Good news: If these techniques help you with your period pain, they may help you cope with other stressful or painful situations later in life.

Acupuncture. The ancient practice of Chinese acupuncture has been studied extensively in both Western and Eastern medicine. While we still don’t fully understand why it may work, I tell my patients that acupuncture is safe and can be very effective therapy for painful periods. Best of all, the risk is very, very low. The worst that can happen is that it won’t work. Many health care providers and even spas offer acupuncture services these days. Most states require acupuncture practitioners to be licensed. To find one near you, visit the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture at www.medicalacupuncture.org.

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