Zheng Qinwen, the 19-year-old, attributed her fourth-round loss at the French Open against Iga Swiatek to menstrual cramps. The Chinese player said, ‘It’s just girls’ things and I always have so much pain on the first day’
The French Open was on the verge of a major upset on Monday when Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen took a set off the world number one women’s tennis player, Iga Swiatek, in their fourth round match.
However, the 19-year-old’s path to glory came to a halt when she took a medical time out at 3-0 down in the second, having her back massaged on court before going to the locker room and returning with her right thigh strapped.
Following her loss (7-6, 0-6, 2-6), Qinwen speaking to the media in her post-match conference said, “Yeah, the leg was also tough. That compared to the stomach was easy… I cannot play my tennis, (my) stomach was too painful. It’s just girls’ things, you know. The first day is always so tough and then I have to do sport and I always have so much pain in the first day. And I couldn’t go against my nature.”
Ranked number 74 in the world, she added, “I wish I can be a man on court, but I cannot in that moment…I really wish I can be (a) man (so) that I don’t have to suffer from this.”
These days people blindly criticise players. But before jumping onto any conclusion, many don’t even consider that before they are elite athletes, they are humans just like us. They go through so much physical & mental turmoil we can’t even think of. 💔https://t.co/S7yOghbiiT
— Ritwika Dhar (@RituD307) May 31, 2022
While she didn’t openly talk about suffering from menstrual cramps, she alluded to the fact and with this has once again brought attention to the impact of periods on women in sport.
Let’s take a better look at what menstrual cramps are, how bad they can be and how female athletes deal with the issue.
What are menstrual cramps?
Most menstruating women suffer from menstrual cramps — a 2019 survey had revealed that about three in four women report experiencing cramps just before or during their period.
Simply put, hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins trigger the uterus to contract. This helps your body get rid of the uterine lining. This can be painful or uncomfortable, and is what’s commonly referred to as “cramps.”
Menstrual cramps can vary in intensity and duration for everyone. They typically vary over the course of one’s period, with the pain or discomfort lessening after the first few days. This is because the level of prostaglandins reduces as the uterine lining is shed and the prostaglandins in the lining are expelled from one’s body.
Often, women will complain of pain in their lower abdomen or back. But some will only experience pain in the lower back. Some people also experience cramping in their upper thighs.
Doctors, medical experts haven’t been able to pinpoint the differing pain for women, but say that inflammation may play a role. The production of prostaglandins is related to inflammation, and inflamed tissue tends to produce more prostaglandins.
More painful menstrual cramps are found to be more common in women who suffer from endometriosis, fibroids, sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.
How to manage menstrual cramps?
There are some approaches, including home remedies, to reducing the discomfort and pain that one suffers during menstrual cramps.
Doctors have often asked women to indulge in light exercise while in their menstrual cycle. A study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies concluded that women who practiced yoga 30 minutes per day, two days a week, for 12 weeks at home had a significant improvement in menstrual pain.
Doctors have also recommended using heating pads and relaxation techniques to counter menstrual pain. If the pain is more acute, over-the counter pain killers have been suggested too.
There also studies that mention that a change in diets during menstrual cycles could help women alleviate the pain they suffer.
Impact on women athletes
Qinwen isn’t the first female athlete to raise the issue of how debilitating menstrual cramps can be or their impact on her performance as an athlete.
Earlier in May, Lydia Ko, golf’s world No 3, also brought up the issue when a male interviewer asked her about the on-course treatment she had received at an event in California.
When asked about her being stretched out midway through the final round of the Palos Verdes Championship was a concern, she responded, “I hope not,” said Ko. “It’s that time of the month. I know the ladies watching are probably like, yeah, I got you.”
“It’s that time of the month. I know the ladies watching are probably like, ‘Yeah, I got you.'”
— LPGA (@LPGA) May 2, 2022
The effects of menstruation on female athletes has rarely been spoken about. But, in recent times some professional sportswomen are getting their periods monitored by their sport’s governing body, with training adapted to suit different points of their cycle.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui, one of China’s best backstroke specialists, performed way below her own lofty standards. When asked about her performance after her team came in fourth place in the 4x100m medley relay, she said, “My period started last night so I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired”.
We do hope that this conversation brings about some change in an ecosystem where menstruation is still considered taboo.
With inputs from agencies
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