PCOS pain is a less common side effect of struggling with polycystic ovarian syndrome, but for those who struggle with this pelvic pain in their lower stomach, it can prove highly uncomfortable and even disruptive to their daily life.
This pain is thought to originate from the presence of ovarian cysts (which on an ultrasound, are one of the three main symptoms used to diagnose PCOS), with women reporting that the pain feels like a sharp stabbing sensation, or even a dull ache that persists over time.
So if you’re suffering from PCOS pain, we want to assure you that, while there’s no FDA-approved medications to tackle this symptom in particular, there are some home remedies for PCOS which can prove effective. On top of that, there are also some small steps you can take day-to-day which should help relieve symptoms.
So with that being said, let’s dive into our top 5 tips for managing PCOS pain.
“Where Is My PCOS Pain Coming From?”
A mix of genes and hormones
Before we can discuss how to manage PCOS pain, we should first understand what causes PCOS. Like we alluded to earlier, experts aren’t exactly sure what the root cause is, but they know excessive androgens and high insulin levels play a big role. It also appears there are both hereditary and environmental contributing factors, which may be triggered by a change or mutation to one or more genes, and PCOS appears to run in families, according to the CDC.
Oh, and those genes we mentioned earlier? They happen to be the same ones shared with T2DM (type 2 diabetes mellitus), and can be seen in higher prevalence among male family members, which may in part explain why PCOS is associated with later onset of diabetes.
Whether this is the case or not, it appears that a driving force behind most PCOS symptoms is the presence of high levels of male hormones (androgens), which prevent the ovaries from producing hormones and ovulating normally. The decreased sensitivity of cells to insulin, causing higher production of insulin in the blood also may be a driver of PCOS (or at least the vicious cycle), as too much insulin increases the production of more androgens.
Cysts on the ovaries
In some cases, cysts on the ovaries can be painful; in other cases they can be extremely small and not cause any symptoms or discomfort.
However, if a cyst does cause symptoms, some common ones may be feelings of pressure, bloating, swelling, or pain in the lower abdomen. According to the Office on Women’s Health (part of the US Department of Health and Human Services), pain can be a dull ache or it can be sharp stabbing sensations. Particularly in the case of a cyst rupturing, this event can cause sudden, severe pain, or in the case of a cyst causing twisting of an ovary, the associated pain may trigger nausea and vomiting.
Here are some other common symptoms they list as a result of ovarian cysts (which are not isolated to women with PCOS, but applicable to all women suffering from ovarian cysts):
- Pelvic pain
- Dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Problems emptying bladder
- Pain during sex
- Unexplained weight gain
- Pain during period
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Needing to urinate more often
Chances are, you won’t have experienced all of these symptoms, but you may have experienced some. In that case, we’re offering some at-home solutions that you can use to manage PCOS pain starting today.
- Exercise, Ideally 3 to 5 Times A Week
Most doctors believe that PCOS comes from a hormonal imbalance within the body, specifically too-high levels of androgens (the male sex hormone), which is also often intertwined with insulin insensitivity (as a result of excessively high, or consistently swinging, levels of insulin in the blood). These issues work to produce an onslaught of other symptoms, such as oily skin, acne, hair thinning, hair growth in unwanted places, and irregular or nonexistent periods.
One holistic way to manage PCOS pain is to exercise regularly. A combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises are most effective, especially slow weighted exercises twice per week.
This all may sound intimidating or overwhelming at first: aerobic exercises, strengthen training, HIIT workouts…but it needn’t be. Essentially, aerobic exercises are anything that gets your heart rate up: so walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming, and spinning are all examples of aerobic exercise you can implement into your daily routine to promote bodily health. As for weighted strength training, this just involves using both your body weight and assistance weight (such as individual weights, a squat bar, or dumbbells) to create resistance and strengthen your muscles. Fun ways to incorporate this into your weekly habits may include joining a circuit training class with a friend, listening to music while working out, or taking an online beginner’s course on how to build up strength through weights.
Keep in mind that you may not like all of these options. Maybe you find that walking briskly is better for your mental and physical health than swimming, or that you want to begin running before you start cycling, as you have more experience in one activity than the other: in all these cases, the important takeaway is that any exercise is better than no exercise.
And the best exercise by far is the type that you most enjoy doing!
- Stretch Your Muscles
Going hand in hand with regular exercise, we also recommend taking time to stretch and relax.
This should help to reduce muscle tension, with pilates and yoga (in particular yin yoga) presenting great, accessible options. Both beginner and intermediate practices focus on the breath, stretching, and mindfulness. As an added bonus, these methods of exercise not only help stretch and strengthen muscles, but they also work to relieve other implications of PCOS, including anxiety, stress, and depression.
Just be mindful that you focus on positions and poses that help alleviate your pain, and don’t push yourself too hard or too fast. Build up stretch and strength over time to slowly help reduce your discomfort.
- Take OTC Medication
Quick note here: we caution against daily doses if not prescribed by your physician, but taking OTC medication occasionally to relieve cramps or mild pain can be a helpful option when looking to relieve PCOS pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aka NSAIDS) include ibuprofen and aspirin, and are common over the counter medications which can help relieve moderate PCOS pain in the lower abdomen. They can help dull the pain of both period cramps and ovarian cysts, and they generally present an immediate solution, taking only 20-30 minutes to kick in.
Keep in mind, though, for severe PCOS pain, this at-home fix may not be sufficient, and in this case we highly recommend that you see your doctor to discuss further options available to you.
- Apply A Heating Pad
Similar to our suggestion to try aspirin and ibuprofen, this is an immediate, easy solution that will provide some temporary relief.
Women with endometriosis (a condition different from PCOS, but also known for triggering the unpleasant side effects of cramps and discomfort in the lower stomach), report using heating pads frequently to reduce intense pain. You can either buy a heating pad which you put in the microwave for 2 minutes at a time to heat up, or you can invest in a wireless heating pad. Alternatively, you could also try taking a hot bath, which should prompt much the same results.
This applied heat should improve blood circulation and cause your uterus muscles to relax, which in turn helps to reduce pain. As such, it may be a good idea to apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower stomach for 30 minutes at a time when you feel pain coming on.
- Eat With Variety And Balance
Though this article has focused specifically on PCOS pain associated with cystic ovaries, we understand PCOS pain expands beyond that, which is why finding methods that don’t just relieve one symptom and instead target a host of symptoms are especially worth focusing on.
And when it comes to alleviating the associated emotional and psychological pain in women suffering from PCOS, food is a great way to help your body and mind heal, providing the energy and fuel necessary to manage symptoms. We recommend eating well-rounded meals and snacks, to balance blood sugars. That means prioritizing:
- Complex Carbohydrates: grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruits, etc.
- Complex CHOs offer a boost of fiber, especially when choosing whole grains along with the other choices above. Fiber improves digestion, gut health, and protects against blood sugar swings that can lead to insulin resistance.
- Antioxidant-Rich Fats: olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, nuts and seeds
- Proteins: lean meats, plant-based proteins (tofu, seitan), beans, whole/full-fat dairy, nuts and seeds
In particular, we emphasize foods that:
- Contain omega-3 fatty acids (excellent sources include nuts, especially walnuts, and fish, like salmon and sardines),
- Vitamin D (which has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and testosterone in women with PCOS, and is found in egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver), in addition to
- High fiber foods (like cruciferous veggies: think kale, spinach, and broccoli, in addition to whole grains: in particular beans, oatmeal, corn, and quinoa) are all great options to lower inflammation levels in the body.
Taken together, foods that contain these essential nutrients and vitamins are items that prompt lower inflammation levels and to help insulin insensitivity (both strong markers of PCOS).
That being said, we also know that not everyone has the time, budget, or even inclination to make variations of the foods we mentioned above. For that reason, we’ve quickly noted down some of the least expensive, easiest to prepare (10 minutes or less to put together) options that tick at least one of the above boxes.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Fruits and vegetables:
- Bananas, oranges, frozen berries, cabbage, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Our top tips: buy in season, and check out the frozen/canned aisles for the best deals on fruit and vegetables
- Eggs, chicken, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, peanut butter, canned sardines, frozen cod, canned tuna
- Again, the canned and frozen sections will likely be the most economical, and frying up eggs, or adding beans and tuna to a salad (or in a sandwich) is an easy way to add some extra protein to your meals
- Whole grains
- Popcorn, oatmeal, whole wheat breads, frozen corn, fresh corn, polenta, grits, granola bars, high fiber cereals, cooked grains (millet, sorghum, quinoa)
- Our top tips: buy in bulk if you can (for instance, instead of buying the oatmeal packets, buy the bigger containers), and look for items on sale which you can then put in the freezer and pop straight into the toaster or oven.
For the easiest way to implement some increased variety to your diet, instead of looking to overhaul your entire routine, we suggest starting slow and small. You could begin by implementing some of the foods on this list, such as nuts in your cereal, avocado in your salad, or some tofu throughout your meals during the week (these are just examples: listen to what your body is telling you).
And if you’re not sure where to start, or you’d like to make some changes to your diet with assistance, we recommend working with a registered dietitian to create a customized plan that you can continuously adapt and optimize with expert help.
(If you want to learn more about what foods to love and which ones to avoid for managing PCOS? Check out our article, here!)
Above all, though, when it comes to making changes to your diet, listen to your body!
To wrap up, we want to emphasize that PCOS pain is an extremely unfortunate side effect (among a long list of other symptoms) that arises from this condition. That being said, day-to-day changes have the potential to make an impact, and so taking small steps every day to prioritizing your health – leading with kindness and inclusivity at the center of your approach – are likely to have many positive effects that let you not just manage PCOS, but heal your body long-term.
Allara note: if you have severe, constant, or unmanageable abdominal pain, this could be signs of a ruptured cyst, ectopic pregnancy, twisted ovary, or endometriosis. In this case, we highly recommend seeking medical attention immediately.
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.