Back Pain and PMS

An estimated three of every four menstruating women experience some form of premenstrual syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) has a wide variety of symptoms and can affect a woman mentally, emotionally and physically. These symptoms can range from irritability, anxiety, depression and aggression to nausea, breast swelling, abdominal cramping and back pain.

Back pain is one of the more common symptoms of PMS, and can range from a small ache to debilitating pain. Medical experts do not know for sure what causes PMS and its symptoms, but they do know that PMS is linked to changes in hormone levels during a woman's menstrual cycle.

Some evidence shows that prior to menstruation, a woman's lower back and abdomen contract and tighten, which can cause the back pain and discomfort associated with PMS. Additional research suggests that premenstrual water retention that creates the common PMS bloating puts pressure on a woman's lower back, causing her to feel back pain.

Although exactly what causes premenstrual syndrome is unknown, Christiane Northrup, M.D., OB/GYN and author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, states in her book that studies have shown that women with PMS tend to have the following nutritional and physiological characteristics:

  • High consumption of dairy products.
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine, in the form of soft drinks, coffee or chocolate.
  • Excessive consumption of refined sugar and not enough whole foods such as fresh vegetables.
  • A relatively high blood level of estrogen associated with deficiencies of the vitamin B complex, especially B6 and B12 (the liver requires these vitamins to break down estrogen).
  • Excessive body weight (which increases the chances of excessive levels of estrogen).
  • Low levels of vitamins C and E and selenium (the liver requires these to metabolize estrogen properly).
  • A deficiency in magnesium (the liver needs magnesium to metabolize estrogen optimally).

For some women, the emotional stress and physical pain from PMS is so uncomfortable or severe that it can limit their ability to take part in their daily activities and routines.

Many doctors give women symptomatic treatments (such as painkillers or antidepressants) for PMS symptoms that can be very helpful in the short term, but over the long run don't always work. Moreover, the medications given often have side effects that can create additional imbalances in a woman's system.

Alternatively, research has shown that making lifestyle changes can help a woman reduce and manage PMS symptoms without the use of medications. The following is a list of recommended lifestyle choices to relieve PMS back pain.

Lifestyle Recommendations to Reduce PMS-Related Back Pain

Eat a healthy diet. Eliminate or limit your intake of refined, sugar-loaded foods, and instead choose abundant amounts of green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and other whole foods. Eat a moderate amount of lean meats and limit your intake of salty foods to reduce fluid retention and bloating that has been associated with contributing to PMS back pain.

Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. Drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages have been shown to cause mood and energy level disturbances that can exacerbate PMS symptoms, triggering the onset of premenstrual back pain.

Take your vitamins. Research has shown that vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium are important dietary supplements that can help decrease PMS symptoms, including back pain.

Exercise regularly. Do a physical activity for at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 times a week. You may want to consider brisk walking, cycling, swimming or another aerobic activity. Exercise increases your endorphin levels that can help your body deal with physical pain (like back pain). Additionally, exercise helps release muscle tension in the back contributing to back pain. Getting regular exercise can help improve your overall health and alleviate other common PMS symptoms such as fatigue and depression.

Practice yoga. Yoga is very beneficial for relieving back pain. Yoga poses can relieve muscle tension, help you increase your flexibility and strength, and balance your endocrine and nervous systems. With the help of an experienced yoga teacher, you can learn and practice poses to specifically relieve PMS back pain.

Stress management. Research has shown that stress can aggravate PMS symptoms. Women who practice meditation or other methods of deep relaxation such as deep breathing and yoga have reported being able to alleviate many of their PMS symptoms, including back pain. 

Take warm showers or baths (or apply a heat pack). Heat can help loosen up muscle tension in the back and reduce premenstrual back pain.

Try these lifestyle and self-care methods and see what difference they can make for you.

Note: If these recommendations are not making a difference for you and you find that your back pain and other PMS symptoms are interfering with your mental, emotional and/or physical health, contact your doctor for an appointment.


Mayo Clinic Staff. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Information Page. Accessed January 2, 2010.

Northrup, C. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. Bantam Books. New York: March 1998.

Premenstrual Syndrome, Information Page. Accessed January 2, 2010.

Jocoy, S. Premenstrual Syndrome -Home Treatment. Yahoo Health. June 19, 2008. Accessed January 2, 2010.