Phew! Periods can be rough. We’re dealing with weight fluctuations, water retention, breast tenderness and the dreaded (yet often underestimated) menstrual cramp all while being expected to just carry on with life as though the red devil hasn’t set up camp in our uteruses. Ouch! Thankfully, as seasoned menstruators, we have grown to be adaptable to the inconveniences of periods. And what’s more, we rock at it!
But just in case you haven’t quite found a way to ease period pain that suits you and your bod, here’s another remedy to add to your arsenal: the salve.
A salve (pronounced ‘sav’, not ‘solve’) is a type of rub or ointment that can be used for all manner of minor maladies including bug bites, dry skin, cuts and scrapes, diaper rash and chapped lips. They can moisturize, have antibacterial properties, provide heating/cooling effects and more. Still not sure what is it? Let’s just say if you’ve used something like Vick’s VapoRub or Icy/Hot, you’ve used a salve. So can they work for period cramps?
Thanks to science, we know that the uterus releases chemicals called prostaglandins just before the period starts. These chemicals are responsible for making the uterus contract so the uterine lining (endometrium) can leave the body through the vagina. These contractions can go unnoticed and be completely painless. Cramps (also called dysmenorrhea) are caused by an excess of prostaglandins, which can make those contractions longer and tighter. This results in a lack of oxygen to the uterine and intestinal muscles. And that means PAIN! 😖
We also know they are pretty common. A 2012 study concluded that over 84% of the 408 university students who participated experienced period pain in some or all of their periods. About 25% reported that they had pain so severe, they couldn’t study or participate in social activities. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a lot!
Applying heat to the abdomen is a common home remedy for cramps. Another 2012 study shows us that heat therapy can be just as effective in soothing period cramps as ibuprofen. WHAT?! You can use a hot water bottle, a bath, a heating pad or…a nice warming salve. If your cramps aren’t too severe or you’re looking to avoid OTC meds, a warming salve can be a nice relaxing way to treat cramps.
There are countless blogs and YouTube videos with easy tutorials on how to make your own salves. Much of what you need can be found right in your kitchen, giving you the freedom to customize the ingredients to suit your taste. You could even find a DIY kit online or take a class in person. Then you can ask questions and you won’t have to spend a ton of money on some of the more expensive ingredients.
Have you ever caught yourself just absentmindedly rubbing your abdomen when you have cramps? I sure have. Using a warming salve can be a great way to treat yourself to a relaxing massage. If you have a willing partner, maybe they will do it for you. If you’re into alternative modalities, you could try activating some acupressure points while you apply your salve.
If you’re not so much into making your own, you can stop by a nearby bath or herb shop and get help from a local expert. Or you can find an Etsy shop that sells pre-made salves. Be sure to check the reviews.
Still skeptical? Too hippie-dippy? That’s ok. If you’re willing to keep an open mind and do a little digging, you just might find a recipe or pre-made salve you like even better than your trusty old heating pad. With such a wide variety of ways to treat and soothe cramps, this one is definitely worth trying. There are so many recipes out there, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a few that could suit your needs. And if not you could always experiment and come up with your own. Who knows? You might be the next internet salve queen! I’m not sure that’s a thing, but it could be!
Amy Sharp is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed period enthusiast! Her writing and artwork focus primarily on women’s health and sexual and reproductive health education. She recognizes a need for both accuracy and personal insight in the ongoing discussion of body literacy. Visit her online portfolio at www.andimbleeding.com or follow her on Twitter (@andimbleeding).