Every person who has a period experiences period pain differently. Whether you bleed or not, you're likely to suffer from cramps, whether that's in your stomach, back, or legs. Sometimes, these cramps can be debilitating. At other times, they're much easier to cope with. There's a lot of talk about stomach cramps in particular, but what does period pain in your thighs mean?
Understanding how period pain works is the key to understanding why you feel pain in a certain part of your body. Put simply, the pain arises from contractions within the womb, states the NHS. If these contractions are mild, you're unlikely to notice them. But, during your period, these contractions become stronger in order to encourage the lining of the womb to shed.
This results in blood vessels being compressed, which, in turn, leads to a lack of blood and oxygen supply to the area. When tissues don't have oxygen, they release chemicals that cause pain. At the same time, other chemicals called prostaglandins are also being released. The purpose of prostaglandin is to encourage more shedding, which, as you've likely guessed, results in more pain.
"Unfortunately, prostaglandins don’t just affect the uterine muscles, but can cause cramps in other muscles too," Dr Molly O'Shea wrote on the U by Kotex site. Another expert, Dr Raegan McDonald-Mosley from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, echoed this point, telling Broadly that between 50 and 90 percent of people who have periods have painful period cramps. She added that these cramps can come as "referred pain" to the back, buttocks, and thighs.
While thigh pain can be a common side effect of periods, it can also be a sign of endometriosis. As Healthline reports, this condition occurs when cells that grow and shed during the menstrual cycle locate themselves in places that aren't the uterus. These cells naturally try and leave the body, resulting in swelling and inflammation.
Endometriosis-related leg pain tends to feel different to typical cramps. It may feel warm and spread over one or both legs, Healthline reports, and can feel worse before your period starts. The NHS states that other symptoms of endometriosis include pelvic pain, pain during or after sex, and debilitating period pain. If you have any concerns, visit your GP.
If you know your thigh pain is related to period cramps, there are a few ways to relieve it. Dr O'Shea writes that taking ibuprofen before you have your period can stop prostaglandins from attaching to the muscle, preventing pain. Aspirin can also work as a painkiller for period pain, but paracetamol is thought to be less effective, according to the NHS.
And Shamir Patel, a pharmacist at Chemist 4 U, told me a few other options that might work for thigh pain:
"Practising yoga, alongside other light exercises (such as walking) can help to relieve the pain naturally. Stretches that focus particularly on the muscles around your pelvis are also a good idea, if you feel comfortable doing them. You can also relieve thigh pain with heat treatments such as hot water bottles and patches. And, as with any period-related pain, warm baths can help too."
Any period pain that starts to negatively affect your life probably warrants a trip to the doctor. From prescribing contraceptives to advising on appropriate pain-management techniques, your GP will be able to help.