Every month it's the same old thing for millions of women worldwide: cramps, crankiness, bloating and backache.  Some studies suggest that 90 percent of women experience menstrual cramps, and 10 percent have it so bad that they're stuck in bed for days. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, are divided into two camps:  primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea is pelvic pain that comes from having your period and the natural production of prostaglandins.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by something else, like fibroids or endometriosis, among other conditions. If you suspect you have any of these conditions, it's important to see your doctor.

While over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen help many women deal, others prefer natural menstrual cramp remedies.  According to ACOG, the following remedies help relieve menstrual cramps:

  • Exercise. Exercising most days of the week. Aerobic workouts, such as walking, jogging, biking, or swimming, help produce chemicals that block pain.
  • Apply heat. A warm bath, heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen can be soothing.
  • Sleep. Get enough sleep before and during your period. This can help you cope with any discomfort.
  • Have sex. Orgasms can relieve menstrual cramps in some women.
  • Relax. Meditate or practice yoga. Relaxation techniques can help you cope with pain.

The Mayo Clinic has some good ideas too: 

  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been used in China to relieve pain for more than 2,000 years. A practitioner places hair-thin needles into the skin at specific places on your body. It's a proven natural menstrual cramp remedy that's essentially painless.
  • TENS. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has been found to be more effective than placebo in relieving menstrual cramps. TENS raises the threshold for pain signals and stimulates the release of endorphins, your body's natural painkillers.
  • Dietary supplements. Some studies indicated vitamin E, thiamin, and omega-3 supplements may help reduce menstrual cramps.

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) suggests reducing salt, caffeine, sugar and alcohol starting two weeks before your period.  Some studies suggest a glass of wine (or other alcohol) may help relieve cramps by causing overall relaxation, while others suggest alcohol may lengthen the duration of cramps. UMMC offers these alternative remedies:

  • Black cohosh. It contains a plant estrogen. . . [While]many women use it for menopausal symptoms. . . some also use it for dysmenorrhea. [It] appears to be safe, but because its actions resemble estrogen more clinical studies are needed to confirm both long-term safety and effectiveness. Headaches and gastrointestinal problems are common side effects. At this time, experts do not recommend taking it for more than 6 months.
  • Ginger tea. It may help relieve nausea and bloating.
  • Aromatherapy. Suggestions include topically applied lavender, sage, and rose oils.

If your cramps disrupt your life after trying these natural remedies, see your gynecologist about treatment options that'll make your period more manageable.