It appears that this has been overlooked as an essential topic here on everything2.. or maybe I just can't find much about it, either way, I figured I'd throw my two cents in. I suffered through some pretty rough times that could have been somewhat prevented or at least helped if I had known some of this stuff. *grumble* At least I'm one of those people that doesn't get grouchy from PMS, I just get sad and bawl my eyes out. (I guess it can be argued which is better or worse, but at least I'm not mean to people this way.)
Here are some good ways to relieve menstrual cramping during PMS and when it finally arrives, from personal experience, as well as suggested methods I've yet to try:

1. Sex. Apparently having sex relieves cramps, but you first have to find someone willing to have intercourse with a female during that time of the month. (Try doing it in the shower, or something.)

2. Heating pads, hot towels (thanks booyaa), warm things might help to soothe a little. There is the whole heat and pressure idea, which seems to be pretty popular.

3. Tylenol or other pain relievers which generally don't do a very good job, but might help some people. Midol and other such drugs might help, too.

4. There are a ton of herbal remedies out there, if you care enough to search for them. There's an herbal ointment known as "Soothing Secrets" that is supposed to be pretty decent, and I know there are a whole slew of herbs that are nice on their own. (German Chamomile flower, Black Cohosh root, Chinese Dong Quai root, Squawvine herb, Milk Thistle seed, St. John’s Wort flowering tops, Polynesian Kava Kava root, Vitex (Chastetree) berry, Valerian root and Ginger root. These are all supposedly helpful.)

5. The fetal position (if laying down), and ibuprofin (100-200 milligrams, advil) supposedly works for the majority of people. (Thanks to Eraser_ for those helpful little suggestions.)

It's important to remember that very severe cramping and heavy bleeding can mean there is something wrong, though it really varies completely from person to person. I'm pretty sure if the cramps are really terrible it can be a sign of osteoporosis, or cancer. Either way, it pays to make sure that there isn't anything wrong. I noticed that when I was younger I had a lot more cramping than I ever do now.. ah, getting older isn't so terrible after all.

wuukiee suggests mugwort is quite helpful, and that some people find aleve to be a good pain killer.

Er, situps/crunches are good too - that and hot tea are about all that i find to help. But the best cure is prevention. I was told once upon a time that caffeine, alcohol and sugar exascerbate cramps. So even though it seems like a good idea, eating chocolate at that time is not necessarily a good idea. Nor is drinking away your pain! So, maybe your cramps got better because you started taking better care of yourself. I don't have scientific backup for that, but lived experience seems to support it. Also, stay hydrated. But that's good at any time.

And orgasms! Don't forget orgasms. They are the absolute best, most effective, surefire cure for menstrual cramps in the world. (HER orgasms, not HIS, gentlemen. Sorry.)

Side Note: Although having someone else induce said orgasms is clearly the preferred method, it is by no means the only way to go (so to speak.) If your mate is frightened by the "black widow" possibilities should his most valiant attempts fail, you might choose to be understanding and gentle with him...then lock him out of the bedroom and cure yourself.

Drinking pineapple juice helps me - there's apparently some acid or something in it that acts as a muscle relaxant. Other people I know have had success with commercial muscle relaxants, though I'm not much one for taking pills. The idea is that if you can get the uterus to calm down and stop clenching, it hurts much much less.

Advil is the only drug that works for me. But then again, Advil cures everything, doesn't it? Also hot baths help. And instead of crunches or sit-ups I like to just push on my lower stomach, almost like I'm forcing it all out. It sounds icky but it feels much better. I have been told that cramps are caused by the bigger clots trying to get out, sorry for the grossness of that statement, but really, what did you expect? The node is about menstruation!

As for how chocolate factors into the whole thing, I myself find that chocolate takes away the nauseous feeling associated with the cramps. But as is everything else to do with a woman's body, every womans's body reacts differently.
I've had very bad cramps since I was 12, and was fortunate that this forced me to meditate before I even knew that there was such a word as "meditate". However, I can't always be in a quite room lying down. Here's how I do it.

I lay on my back, with hands down by my side, out a little from my body. I try to get in as relaxed position as I can. Then I let my mind float at first just a few inches above my body. Then a foot. Eventually, on good days, I can get out of the building and into a nice place with a pond and a whole lot of sunshine and amazingly soft grass. On the way I frolic in the clouds sometimes. After a while I find that the pain has subsided and I'm ready to come back, taking the same route in reverse. If the cramps have been really bad, I then need to sleep or rest for about 2 hours.

The meditation is not always the same. Sometimes I just go to a quiet non-place. Sometimes all I can do is really concentrate on my breathing so that I have no mental space left to experience pain.

I've spoken to a lot of doctors about this, and the best they can still offer is Advil, (or Naproxen or Anaprox Sodium by prescription). This has some effects beyond pain relief that help ease the actual cramping. The problem for me is that by the time I've taken enough to relieve the cramps I'm really relaxed and no longer in the mood to work.

I've heard a lot of reasons why cramping may occur, and we're all different, so I'm sure we each have our own combination of factors. Among the popular are: tilted uterus, larger clots trying to get out, stress, and small cervix. And, of course, disease can be a cause.

The best thing I ever heard is that having hard cramps means that you are in prime condition to have children. The uterus is exercising for the day. And theoretically, people who have strong cramps should have an easier time delivering children.


Update

I had a surgery in December and found out that I have endometriosis. Well, that explains a lot! The only way to diagnose this is the surgery, and I strongly recommend it to anyone. I just completed six months with no pain. It's a miracle.

One tip that my mom (an internist) suggested was to take the ibuprofen before the cramps really started. The ibuprofen helps reduce the uterine spasms by an interaction with the hormones that trigger cramps, and it is easier to prevent a muscle from spasming than to get it to relax. Taking the ibuprofen before the pain starts also allows time for the painkilling aspect of the drug to become effective in your system (most medicines take ~30 minutes to enter the bloodstream through the digestive tract.)

Personally, I prefer a long bath followed by a nice nap, but taking a whole day just because you have your period is not socially accepted anymore. (where are menstrual huts when you want them?)I guess the best would be to have the day for the long bath and the nap without the pain, but someone would probably catch on to the scheme.

For years now scientists and doctors have been looking into the effects of calcium on the female body, particularly with regard to menstrual cycles and menopause. Enough calcium in your diet can really help with the cramping, bloating (or water retention) and general malaise that often comes with PMS. It is important, however, that you find a balance. Too much calcium in your system can cause problems too, as I understand it.

Another big factor, according to my ob-gyn, is sodium level. If you've ever read Cosmo or any other women's magazine, you've probably seen cramp remedies that include lowering your sodium intake at least a few days before your PMS typically begins. It makes sense--keeping your body hydrated relieves cramping; sodium works against that hydration. So... lay off the extra salty snacks at least 3 days in advance.

Magnesium plays a role in cramping as well. It facilitates nerve and muscle activity by smoothing and relaxing blood flow. Other suggestions include lying on your back with your legs elevated and knees supported, stretching or yoga exercises, breathing techniques (or any other stress-reducing activity) and--my personal favorite—venting my frustration in new and imaginative ways. :P

Seriously, though, the best way to address PMS problems is by preventing them. Thinking wisely about your diet can save you (and your loved ones) many aches and pains later on.

Information verified with http://www.pcrm.org/research/menstrual.html

I have suffered VERY severe cramping for around a year now. The cramping causes me to miss work, curl up in a ball on the floor in a fit of anguish and wish I was dead, 3-4 times in one day for the first few days of the cycle. I have had other side effects, such as profuse clottage (sorry for the grossness) and fainting spells. I have gone to the doctor about it, but he merely suggested I go on birth control pills, after admitting that the pill wouldn't solve the problem, just take away the symptoms until I come off the pill. But, from my extreme moments of pain, this is the advice that I can offer.

It seems to help if I stay away from eating too much red meat, as long as I eat enough to keep a certain level of iron. Staying hydrated and well-fed helps also. Ibuprofen works well, although it is more of a preventive measure than anything. Meaning: it may not work unless taken before you start feeling the cramps. DO NOT take more than the recommended dosage of ibuprofen, even if it works better that way. Before I discovered Aleve, I took somewhere around twelve 200mg tablets daily. It saved me the horrors of the pain I felt, but it probably rendered one of my kidneys useless. Someone mentioned doing sit-ups. Being well toned may help, but I can't imagine doing sit-ups during cramps. If it works for you, go for it. Back massages certainly help. I have found that allowing myself to be irritable increases my unhappiness, and thus, increases the pain. So if there's any way to put yourself in a good mood, by all means do so.

I recently found a really great way to keep a nice amount of heat almost directly where you're cramping.

I don't know how many people have heard of HotHands™  handwarmers - they're really cool. They come in an orange plastic package, usually two at a time. When you open the package there's a little cloth-like pouch with some stuff inside. The stuff reacts with the air and heats up so you can put it in your pocket or your gloves to keep your hands warm.

 

STICK IT IN YOUR PANTS.

You can put it right over where it hurts and it doesn't get too hot and burn you. It usually helps relax the muscle fairly quickly. Plus it usually ends up under your waistband, which holds it up nicely. They last up to ten hours, and you can walk around with the heat on you. Really quite nifty.

I'm 15 and have had my period for about 3 years. During this time, I've discovered a few helpful ways to ease the pain caused by this monthly 'gift'.
(These work for me, but everyone is different):

Bananas- Bananas are high in potassium, which can ease muscle contractions and relax the body.

The Fetal Position- this usually takes a few minutes to work

Pressure- putting pressure directly on the pain areas helps a lot. When the pain is in my lower back, I use the tips of my fingers to try and roll it away. When it's in my stomach and hip region, I use my knuckles.

Heat- heating pads, warm towels, etc.

Exercise- it may sound strange, but it works. Stretching or yoga works best. It may cause some severe momentary pain, but it helps to keep the cramps from returning.

Breathing deeply- hyperventilating and short, ragged breathing causes muscles to contract and makes cramps worse. Take slow, calm breaths and try to steady your heartbeat.

Staying still- laying in one position for a period of time helps ease the pain

Here are some things that can cause cramps (best to avoid!):

Dairy- especially ice cream. The lactose in dairy helps strengthen muscles that stimulate contractions (good for sex, bad for cramps).

Making loud noises- talking loudly and yelling contract your abs, which for some makes cramps better, but makes them worse for me.

Tampons- these make the muscles work harder to compensate for the intrusion of an object. Try pads.

Alcohol- alcohol may relax some muscles, but it will ultimately lead to the feeling of a hangover in your uterus.

Tight jeans- it may sound cliche, but wearing tightly fitting pants constricts the body and makes the muscles rub together and behave abnormally.

Bad posture- slouching opens the back muscles up for the full frontal hit of cramps.

High body fat- for some reason, the healthier weight you are, the less agonizing the cramps. Eating healthy and stretching for at least 10 minutes a day helps alleviate tension that can cause cramps.

Medicine's can be an easy way to temporarily alleviate cramps, but not in the long run. I'm vegan and straight edge, so I can't give a personal opinion on the effectiveness of pills, but I have friends that use them (Tylenol, Advil, Midol, Ibuprofen, etc etc) and say that they aren't very helpful.

Hope this helps you!

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