CAUSES OF PAINFUL MENSTRUATION.There should be no pain at menstruation, but that pain is quite common cannot be denied. Let us look for other causes than are found in the dress.One frequent cause is found in the ignorance of girls, and their consequent injudicious conduct at the time of the beginning of sexual activity. At this time of life the girl is often called lazy because she manifests lassitude, and this is nature’s indication that she should rest. The vital forces are busy establishing a new function, and the energy that has been expressed in bodily activity is now being otherwise employed.
The girl who has been properly brought up, whose muscles are strong, and whose nervous supply is abundant, may have no need of especial care at this time, but the average girl needs much judicious care, in order that her physical womanhood shall be healthfully established. She should be guarded from taking cold, from overexertion, from social dissipation, and especially from mental excitement, and other causes of nervousness. I would like to call your attention to the great evil of romance-reading, both in the production of premature development and in the creation of morbid mental states which will tend to the production of physical evils, such as nervousness, hysteria, and a host of maladies which largely depend upon disturbed nerves.
Girls are not apt to understand the evils of novel-reading, and may think it is only because mothers have outlived their days of romance that they object to their daughters enjoying such sentimental reading; but the wise mother understands the effects of sensational reading upon the physical organization, and wishes to protect her daughter from the evils thus produced.
It is not only that novel-reading engenders false and unreal ideas of life, but the descriptions of love-scenes, of thrilling, romantic episodes, find an echo in the girl’s physical system and tend to create an abnormal excitement of her organs of sex, which she recognizes only as a pleasurable mental emotion, with no comprehension of the physical origin or the evil effects.
Romance-reading by young girls will, by this excitement of the bodily organs, tend to create their premature development, and the child becomes physically a woman months, or even years, before she should.
In one case it became my duty to warn a girl of eleven, who was an omnivorous reader of romances, that such reading was in all probability hastening her development, and she would become a woman in bodily functions while she ought yet to be a child. Her indications of approaching womanhood were very apparent. By becoming impressed by my words she gave up romance-reading, devoted herself to outdoor sports, to nature studies, and the vital forces diverted from the reproductive system were employed in building up her physical energy, her health improved, her nervousness disappeared, and three years later her function of menstruation was painlessly established.
A frequent cause of painful menstruation is found in habitual neglect of the bowels. The evils of constipation are common to the majority of women and girls, and the foundation is laid in childhood. Mothers are not careful enough in instructing children in the need of care in this respect, and so the habit is formed early in life, and the results are felt later.
If the bowels are not evacuated regularly the matter to be cast out of the body accumulates in the rectum and large bowel, and by pressure the circulation of the blood is impeded and congestion ensues. This extends to all the pelvic organs; the uterus and ovaries thus congested will soon manifest disease, and painful menstruation be the result.
One of the most frequent causes of pain is congestion produced by displacements. People are very apt to think that the displacement of the uterus is the main factor, but in my opinion it is a secondary condition, and not the one to be first considered. The uterus is a small organ, not vital to the individual, is very movable, and not sensitive, so that its displacement alone could hardly be considered sufficient to cause so great a train of evils as is frequently manifest. But the liver, stomach and bowels are large, vital organs, and their displacement leads to greater consequences. You learned at school that the bowels are over twenty feet in length, weigh as much as twelve or fifteen pounds, are supported in a way that makes it possible for them to sag into the abdominal cavity and press upon the pelvic organs. Dr. Emerson, of the Boston School of Oratory, asserts that in most adults the stomach and bowels are from two to six inches below their normal location; and, as I have said before, Dr. Kellogg often finds the stomach lying in the abdominal cavity as low down as the umbilicus. What has caused this sagging of the abdominal viscera? They certainly must have been intended to keep their place unless there has been some interference. We find just such interference in the ordinary arrangement of the clothing. Tight waists and bands, and skirts supported by the hips, are cause sufficient for these displacements.
Just above the hips there is no bony structure to protect and support the soft, muscular parts. They yield to pressure, and the internal viscera, deprived of muscular support, sink until they rest on the pelvic organs. If, when you look at your abdomen, you see depressions or hollows on each side below the floating ribs, you may know that the bowels have sagged down out of place. If you feel great weariness, backache, or a dragged down feeling in standing or walking, you may know that the contents of the abdomen are pulling on their attachments or pressing on the pelvic organs. Thus displaced, circulation is hindered and the organs all become congested, or filled with blood that moves very slowly. This congested condition is increased at menstruation, and great pain may result.
It is well to have the counsel of some good, honest physician under such circumstances, but should you be where it is not possible to have such counsel, you may still be able to do something to help yourself. In the first place, you can rearrange your clothing so as to relieve all the organs from external weight or pressure, and, in the second place, you can support the abdominal walls by applying pressure from below. I have known cases of painful menstruation entirely relieved by simply supporting the bowels by a bandage, thus relieving the uterus of pressure and allowing a free circulation through all the internal organs.
A very simple and practical bandage can be made at home at almost no cost, either in time or money. Buy some thin, cheap cotton flannel. Take lengthwise of the goods a strip long enough to go around the body at the hips, which will be a yard or a little over, and wide enough to fit from the thighs up to the waist, perhaps eight inches. Put darts on the sides and in the center of the back, to make it fit the figure. Make a couple of straps four inches wide and half a yard long; cut off one end of each diagonally. Sew these slanting ends to the lower side of the band about four inches from the center, that is eight inches apart, and so that the short side of the strap will be towards the center. Do not hem either band or straps, but overcast them; then they will not feel uncomfortable.
In order to adjust the band properly it will be well to lie down on the back upon the bandage with the knees raised. Press the hands low down upon the abdomen and raise the contents. Repeat this several times; then draw the bandage around, pin with safety pins, draw the straps up between the limbs and fasten with safety pins to the bandage. The support thus given is found to be very comfortable, and girls who have much trouble in walking or standing during their menstrual periods would find this simple bandage a great help at that time.
When the bandage is removed at night you should rub and manipulate the abdominal walls so as to increase the circulation and stimulate in them a better circulation and thus make you stronger.
By deep breathing in a proper standing attitude the abdominal viscera are lifted upward, and if the firmness of the abdominal walls is at the same time increased by exercise, the difficulties may be largely overcome. Some exercises will be found in Chapter XXIII. which are calculated to strengthen the walls and to lift the internal organs.
I wish to call your attention to a cause of displacement that is quite generally overlooked, and that is, a wrong attitude.
Dr. Eliza Mosher has made a very thorough study of this matter, and she says that the common habit of standing on one foot is productive of marked deformities of both face and body and of serious displacements of internal organs. It is seldom a girl or woman can be found whose body is perfectly symmetrical. By standing on one foot, the hip and shoulder of one side approach each other, and so lessen the space within the abdomen on that side. On the other side a support has been removed for the contents of the abdomen, and they sag down until they pry the uterus out of place and press it over towards the side where there is less pressure. The broad ligament on one side is stretched from use and on the other side shortened from disuse, and so the uterus remains permanently dislocated.
Dr. Mosher thinks that standing continually with the weight on the left foot is more injurious than bearing it on the right foot, for it causes the uterus and ovaries to press upon the rectum and so produces a mechanical constipation, especially during menstruation.
Wrong habits of sitting will produce the same results. If the girl sits at school with one elbow on the desk, the head will be turned to the opposite side and the spine will be inclined from the perpendicular, and a lateral curvature be likely to result. If she carries her books always on the same side, it will tend to increase the curvature. If she sits with both elbows supported, her shoulders will be pushed up. If her body is twisted as she sits, a strain comes upon the muscles, and some ligaments will be lengthened and others shortened, thus producing a lateral curvature.
To sit “on the small of the back,” that is, slipping down in the chair, bracing the shoulders against the chair-back, tends to injure the nerves by pressure, and also to create a posterior curvature of the spine.
Does it not seem unfortunate that we should allow ourselves even to form such wrong habits of sitting and standing? And now we ask, How shall we know when we are in a correct attitude?
We have comparatively few correct examples to imitate. I notice people everywhere, and I see that old and young stand incorrectly. The head is poked forward, the shoulders are rounded, the chest is flattened, and the curve in the lower part of the back is straightened. The whole figure is out of balance, and therefore not harmonious. Not only is the beauty of the figure destroyed, but the internal organs are displaced. Many a mother who sees her daughter thus growing round-shouldered keeps telling her to throw her shoulders back; but to follow this command only increases the difficulty. The shoulders are not primarily at fault, but the trouble originates in non-use of the front waist muscles. These muscles, weakened by disease because of tight clothing and corset steels, and also by cramped positions in school or at work, refuse to hold the body erect, and it “lops” just at this point. This “lopping” disturbs the harmonious relation of the weights of shoulders, abdomen, head, and the large lower gluteal muscles with which nature has cushioned the lower part of the body, and so they are obliged to readjust themselves to balance each other, and the awkward, ungainly, unhealthful posture results.
What is needed is to restore the right relation of these weights and all will again be harmonious. Do not interfere with the shoulders, but straighten the front of the body by elevating the chest and raising the head until it is supported directly on the spine, letting the shoulders take care of themselves. If the abdomen is now held back and the gluteal muscles raised, the beautiful curves of the spine will be restored, the shoulders will be straightened, and the internal organs will have a chance to resume their natural position.
A very easy way of finding out if you have the correct attitude is to place your toes against the bottom of the door. Now bring your chest up to touch the door, and throw the lower part of the spine backward so that there will be a space between the abdomen and the door. Place the head erect, with the chin drawn in towards the neck, and you will have very nearly the correct attitude. It may seem a little tiresome at first, because you will be apt to hold yourself in position with needless tension of muscles, but you will soon learn to relax the unnecessary tension, and then you will find the position the most comfortable possible. You can walk farther without fatigue, and stand longer without backache, because the body is placed in the attitude in which all parts occupy their designed relation to each other.
One very important fact is that in the wrong attitude the abdominal organs crowd down into the pelvis, while in the correct position they are supported and kept from sagging, so that the matter of a correct attitude is not only a matter of beauty, but also of health.
In sitting, also, the most comfortable posture is the most healthful; that is, with the body squarely placed on the seat, and equally supported upon the pelvis—not leaning back against the chair, unless the chair should chance to be so constructed that it supports the lower part of the back and keeps the body erect.