While some of us enjoy the cyclic release of menstruation, it’s just really difficult and painful for many. Painful periods can be doubly debilitating because we are expected to carry on as though it weren’t happening.
And it’s complicated. There is no one reason why periods are painful. The constellation of contributing factors is unique to each person.
One factor might be the position of your uterus.
It is common for a uterus to be “tipped,” but it is not normal. A displaced uterus can cause all kinds of problems, including painful periods. I have Dr. Rosita Arvigo and the lineage of traditional Maya healers behind her to thank for this perspective.
Rosita’s mentor, Don Elijio Panti, used to say, “when a woman’s womb is out of balance, her whole world is out of balance.” The uterus and the ovaries play an important role in hormonal regulation. Hormones out of balance impact your emotional state, which in turn affects every aspect of your being.
Furthermore, the womb is a woman’s creative center. When it is displaced, irritated and congested, what happens to the creative flow?
Along with painful periods, a displaced uterus can compromise fertility, impact bladder and bowel function, and contribute to chronic vaginal infections, according to Dr. Arvigo.
Why would your uterus be out of place? And where is its place, exactly?
The uterus sits deep in the pelvis… so low you can hardly feel it above the pubic bone until you’re 12 weeks pregnant. And it’s not very big – about 3” tall and 2” wide. It weighs just 4 ounces and would fit in the palm of your hand. It rests slightly above and behind the bladder and in front of the rectum. Beneath all these organs is the hammock of the pelvic floor muscles. A uterus out of position will impact the organs around it… including the ovaries. Here’s a helpful image.
Five sets of ligaments support the uterus and keep it in place. Balance in these ligaments is essential to uterine health.
Three sets wrap around the cervix. One of these set attaches to the sacrum, one to the pubic bone, and the third to the inside of the hip bones. This third – the transverse cervical ligament – is said to be the strongest ligament in the body. It is primarily responsible for holding the uterus up, even when it is full of baby and weighs 12 pounds!
Then, there are the round ligaments, which help support the body of the uterus from the front. The broad ligament wraps the whole uterus like a scarf, attaches to the inside of the hip bones, and stabilizes side-to-side. The round and broad ligaments are easy to see in this image of a pregnant belly.
When the uterus is positioned correctly, there is balanced tension on all these ligaments.
If the uterus leans to the right or the left, presses forward on the bladder or back on the rectum, some ligaments will become stretched and others will be contracted. Over time, this imbalance in the ligaments effectively “holds” the uterus in an undesirable position.
With these malpositions, the flow of blood and nerve impulses to the uterus can be compromised. Without fresh, oxygen-rich blood and clear communication, the uterine muscle may not contract effectively, causing cramping and clots that are difficult to push out through the cervix. The uterus may not empty completely… leaving old, brownish residue for the following month. All these can lead to painful periods.
The uterus doubles in weight every month – between the time it is empty after menstruation (4oz) and when it is full as you begin your next bleed. Eight ounces… that’s half a pound! Imagine the extra tension on those ligaments as you get ready to bleed.
We do many things – repeatedly in our daily lives – that can pull our wombs out of alignment.
Change these Seven Habits to Improve Painful Periods:
1. Lifting or carrying heavy loads at the end of your cycle or during the first few days of bleeding.
Remember, the uterus doubles in weight from day 5 to day 25 of your cycle, and the extra weight puts a little strain on the supportive ligaments. When you lift things quickly or carry them for any distance, the pelvic floor muscles usually drop, and the uterus loses support.
Repeated over time, these actions cause the ligaments to stretch and eventually they will be unable to hold the uterus in place. So please, don’t plan a move or do your CrossFit workout at the end of your cycle! Allow your body some rest as your womb accomplishes the internal work of clearing and cleansing.
2. Running on cement surfaces.
I get it. Running is an intense, efficient exercise that feels so good on so many levels. It can also be quite stressful and challenging for the muscles and organs of the pelvic bowl.
Think of those ligaments I’ve been talking about as thick rubber bands supporting the weight of a pear. Every step we take when running causes the pear to bounce a little and puts tension on the bands.
The impact when you run on cement or asphalt is nearly double that of running on dirt. It’s easy to feel the impact in your feet and knees, but it travels all the way up to your pelvis. The uterine ligaments will eventually stretch, causing misalignment as above.
Plan your jogging routes to be off-pavement as much as possible or run on the soft shoulder of the road.
3. Slouching on the couch
…and other postural insults can result in misalignment of the spine, hip bones and sacrum. Remember, the uterine ligaments are attached to the bones of the pelvis. If the pelvis is rotated, tipped to the back or the front, uneven tension is put on the ligaments and guess what: over time, the uterus is pulled out of position.
Support your back with pillows, so it remains straight when you relax on the couch. Make sure your desk chair allows you to sit up straight, and please, don’t twist your pelvis by crossing your legs!
4. Carrying your kids on one hip.
It’s always the same hip, right? This habit typically causes one hip to be higher than the other and rotated backward. The ligaments are contracted on one side, stretched on the other, and the uterus is pulled into the tension.
“But that’s what hips are for!” you say. Maybe true, but you have two of them. Switch it up and alternate sides.
5. Wearing high-heeled shoes.
Even a moderate heel can tip your pelvis forward over time and set compensatory patterns in your legs, back, neck and core muscles. I know they’re sexy, but please save them for the very occasional special occasion.
6. Too much sitting!
Even if you’re not slouching on the couch, long periods of sitting without breaks to walk and move the blood contribute to congestion in the pelvic bowl. Think of the blood flowing up and down the body… when you sit, what happens?
The channels of the circulatory and lymph systems get kinked a little at the hips, and the flow is compromised. This is also true of subtle flows; nerve pathways and chi meridians can be occluded with too much sitting. Congestion becomes irritation and inflammation, which causes pain… including pain with your period.
So get up and take a little walk every hour. Set a timer. Run up and down the stairs… shake out your legs! Your mind will be sharper, and your uterus will thank you when you return to your seat.
7. Walking barefoot on cold floors or wet grass.
What? I saved the best for last! This is also about congestion. Traditional wisdom in many cultures says that if you want to support the essential heat in your core, you need to keep your feet warm.
I love to walk barefoot, and I’ve been scolded by women in Portugal, Mexico and Belize when they’ve seen me standing barefoot on cold surfaces.
We draw our energy up from the earth. Cold freezes the gateway, slows the movement of chi, and causes congestion up the line in the abdomen where vital heat is required. The uterus needs to be resourced with fresh blood and chi for optimal functioning.
If you can’t manage it all month long, at least keep your feet warm just before and during your period. Let me know if it helps.
Changing these habits will take time and effort. Pick one or two to start – maybe the easiest ones – and build from there.
Bringing your womb back to center can improve your menstrual flow and lessen the pain with your periods. In addition to the seven actions above, Abdominal Massage and Castor Oil Packs will assist in rebalancing.
When your womb is back in balance, your whole internal world can move toward balance. How great would that be?