heating pad menstrual crampsMenstrual cramps are extremely common.  Most women who menstruate on a regular basis will experience menstrual cramps, usually just before their period.

There are several treatments for menstrual cramps, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and the application of heat with a heating pad.

Interestingly, while the use of a heating pad is a common home remedy for menstrual cramps, there are few research studies showing actually how it works.

Menstrual cramps are usually related to contractions of the uterus and blood vessel restriction in the smooth muscle of the uterus, called the myometrium.  Some researchers feel that heating pads work by improving the blood flow to the myometrium, effectively decreasing the pain.

Research on the Heating Pad for Menstrual Cramps

One research study was done on a small number of participants who had menstrual cramps.  They found that the application of heat to the lower abdomen effectively decreased the participant’s perception of pain, even the pain of menstrual cramps.  Participants used heat in order to decrease their menstrual cramps.

When the participants used the heating pad, they had a 27 percent decrease in pain after using the heating pad for just an hour.  If the participants used the heating pad for two hours, the pain was reduced by 43 percent.  When the participants used the heating pad for four hours, their pain was reduced by 79 percent.

Besides measuring pain reduction, the researchers looked at whether or not blood flow to the uterus was impacted by the application of heat.  The participants entered the study while they had menstrual pain.  They received heating pads to the lower abdomen for 4 hours at a temperature setting of between 104 degrees to 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the menstrual cramps were decreased in intensity, the blood flow to the uterus did not change with the application of heat.  On the positive side, those participants who had the best reduction in menstrual cramps were those who also had the greatest increase in blood flow to the uterus during the test.

Unfortunately, the study was done on only seven patients, so further research needs to be done to see whether or not heating pads work by increasing blood flow to the uterus or whether it works through some other kind of mechanism. A study using a placebo instead of pain needs to be done in order to make sure that the participants aren’t imagining a reduction of pain.  This kind of study would be difficult to do.

Another study came close to the ideal study on heating pads and menstrual cramps.  The researchers used women with menstrual cramps and gave them either anti-inflammatory medications or a heating pad.  Those patients who had a heating pad and no other treatment still had a reduction in pain that was similar to those who participants who received anti-inflammatory medications.

No study looked at the length of time necessary to relieve menstrual cramps through the application of heat.  Even so, most experts recommend that you apply heat for at least an hour but that you don’t put it on the highest setting as you can burn the skin if the heat is too high.

Heating Pad for Menstrual Cramps, what’s your take on it, feel free to share below,