If you’ve ever had a period, it's likely you’ve experienced some sort of period pain and cramps. Everyone experiences period pain – or dysmenorrhea, the medical term for pain with your period cramps – differently: they can be manageable, or completely debilitating; last hours or days; be concentrated in the stomach, back, or even period pain in the thighs. If you get leg pain during your period, you may have been left feeling a little flummoxed as to what period pain in your thigh really means for your health.
Why Do You Get Period Pain In Your Legs?
The reasoning behind why your thighs hurt on your period is actually quite straightforward (whether the pain in your leg feels like it or not), and understanding how period pain works is the key to understanding why you feel pain in certain areas 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.
“Menstrual pain is mainly related to levels of [the chemical] prostaglandin,” Dr Cynthia Graham PhD, Professor of Sexual and Reproductive Health at University of Southampton, tells Bustle. 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. This unfortunately results in pain in areas other than your pelvis, such as the back, and legs, and is sometimes called “referred pain”.
Can Period Pain In Your Thighs Mean Something More Serious?
While thigh pain can be a common side effect of period pain and cramps, pain in your leg during your period can also be a sign of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition in which cells that grow and shed during the menstrual cycle find themselves outside of the uterine wall, and attach themselves to other organs and tissue.
These cells naturally try and leave the body, resulting in swelling and inflammation. As such, endometriosis-related leg pain tends to feel different to typical period cramps. Endometriosis-associated pain can include nociception (the sensory nervous system's process of encoding noxious stimuli), inflammation, and peripheral pain processing. Other symptoms of endometriosis include pelvic pain, pain during or after sex, and debilitating period pain. If you have any concerns, visit your GP.
What Can You Do To Relieve Period Pain In Your Leg?
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. Other effective period pain relief methods such as the use of a TENS machine, a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current, and heat therapy can lesson the symptoms of period pain in your legs, too.
Shamir Patel, a pharmacist at Chemist 4 U, told Bustle that few alternative period pain relief options might work for thigh pain, too. “Practising yoga, alongside other light exercises (such as walking) can help to relieve the pain naturally,” says Patel. “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,” adds Patel. “And, as with any period-related pain, warm baths can help too.”
However, if period pain starts to negatively affect your daily life, it probably warrants a trip to the doctor. From prescribing contraceptives to advising on appropriate pain-management techniques, your GP will be able to help you with the next steps.
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