Why You Get Leg Pain During Your Period? How To Get Rid Of Cramps For Good

Photo: Getty
legs with pain during period

As a woman, I'm well-versed in the trials and tribulations of period pain. I'm well aware that many women experience mild to severe menstrual cramps and pain in their lower back and/or abdomen.

But until recently, I didn't know that I wasn't the only person who gets killer leg pain and leg cramps during periods.

What causes menstrual pain and cramps?

There are two types of dysmenorrhea — the fancy medical term for painful periods — primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea is the more common of the two, and is caused by contractions of the uterus brought on by prostaglandin, a "hormone-like substance" released during that time of the month.

RELATED: 15 Weird (But Totally Normal!) Things That Happen On Your Period

On the positive side, these contractions help flush last month's uterine lining from your body. On the negative side, they can also cause menstrual pain and cramps.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is less common and is caused by diseases or medical conditions affecting the reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and fibroids on the inner wall of the uterus, among others.

Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows on your ovaries, bowel, and tissues lining your pelvis.

There is a common myth out there that painful periods are a sign of good fertility. This, however, is the opposite.

If your periods are accompanied by debilitating pain, it can be your body's way of waving a red flag and trying to warn you that something is up. It may not be your period exactly, but an underlying medical condition causing the severe pain.

For example, extreme menstrual and pelvic pain is one of the symptoms of endometriosis, which can have an impact on fertility. If you have regular "normal" periods, that's a good sign of fertility.

Why do my legs hurt when I get my period?

If your legs feel weak or you have cramps during your period, you may have another reason to curse the stripping of your uterine lining each month.

Leg pain seems so unrelated to your period that many folks don't ever connect the two, but this is a pretty common symptom.

When your body releases prostaglandin, your uterine muscles are not the only ones affected. Prostaglandin can cause other muscles in your body to contract as well, including muscles in your legs.

In particular, you may feel pain or cramping in your inner or upper thighs, buttocks and calves. This can also be the culprit for your back hurting during your period.

RELATED: 6 Effective Ways To Make Your Period Come Faster

Is it normal to get cramps during your period?

It's "normal" to experience some pain and menstrual cramping during your period, but it is not normal for that pain or cramping to last more than two or three days.

Period pain may be more intense when you're younger, and mellow as you age. Whether this is because we get used to it or because of changing hormone levels is still debated.

Personally, I'm 33 now, and I've gotten my period since I was 9 years old. That's 24 years of me dropping to my knees each month and crying out, "The curse is upon me!" before vomiting dramatically onto the floor and taking to my bed, also with as much drama as I can muster post-vomit.

What's more common than getting leg pain during your period? Not talking to your doctor about it — which you should definitely do.

How can I stop my legs from hurting during my period?

There are a few things you can do to alleviate the pain and leg cramps during your period.

1. Apply a warm heating pad to the area that is cramping.

One study found that using a heat patch provided more relief for menstrual pain when compared with topical medication or acetaminophen. This study was actually six studies in one, and determined that women with primary dysmenorrhea were more likely to decrease their menstrual pain when applying heat.

2. Lay down on your side until the pain or cramps subside.

Dr. Lisa Mindley, M.D., board-certified gynecologist with Eisenhower Women's Health, says that “sleeping in the fetal position takes pressure off the abdominal muscles," which ends up causing "skeletal muscles around your abdomen to relax... Many women report that the fetal position can help relieve cramps."

Not only does sleeping on your side in the fetal position help with cramps, but also leakage.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

The period-tracking app Clue conducted a survey of more than 30,000 Clue users to determine what sleeping position was the best to prevent leakage. The result was that sleeping in the fetal position — with your legs pressed together — makes you less likely to leak, even on your heaviest of days.

3. Do gentle exercise, such as yoga, stretching, or walking.

A 1997 study examined the relationship between exercise participation and menstrual pain, physical symptoms, and negative mood.

The study made 21 sedentary women and 20 women who participated in regular exercise complete a modified version of the Prospective Record of the Impact and Severity of Menstrual Symptoms (PRISM) calendar for two complete menstrual cycles. Researchers found that the women who exercised regularly experienced less pain during their menstrual cycle. 

An older study from 1984 looked at the relationship between exercise and endorphins. This study found that when exercising, the endogenous opioids (endorphins) are released and cause several physiological and physiological changes, including pain perception and quelling of "menstrual disturbances in female athletes."

4. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Taking ibuprofen a day or two before your period strikes is a preventative measure that might lessen the severity of your pain before it occurs. Ibuprofen makes it difficult for prostaglandin to latch onto your muscle once it begins flooding your system.

A 1998 study had 15 women take ibuprofen before their periods started and measured their pain levels. Researchers found that the pain reliever did lower their pain from a 9.4 to a 7.8 collectively on the scale used.

Other useful remedies include baths, chocolate, birth control pills, and putting a purring cat on your tummy while you watch television.

It probably can't hurt to give any of those a try, but this obviously shouldn't be used as a substitute for medical advice. When in doubt, be sure to contact your doctor.

RELATED: Period Flu? What It Really Means If You Have Flu-Like Symptoms Before Your Period

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She's the Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.