I didn’t get my period until I was nearly 20 years old, and it was pretty stressful since I suddenly had to figure out which tampons, pads, liners, or cups worked best for me. Then, a year after my first period, I was in an auto accident that caused paralysis in my left arm, from my elbow to fingertips. Right away, I struggled to open and use many products with one hand, especially tampons. Dealing with menstrual pains and trying to get through my day with the use of one arm felt particularly debilitating. Trying to unscrew the safety cap on my pain relievers even brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe that experience, and I used to dread getting my period.
When you rely on one hand, menstrual care can be a particularly challenging adjustment. Unfortunately, people don’t often discuss this topic, and I think it’s important to realize that you are not alone. And the good news is that you can find menstrual products that better fit your needs. Through a lot of experimentation, I’ve finally found items that are easier for me to use. Depending on your unique situation and reason for needing to use one arm, you may have varying degrees of ease or difficulty with the following tips. But this can be a helpful starting place for experimentation in order to find what makes your period more manageable.
Most people in a similar situation to mine who I’ve connected with online say opening tampons is their biggest hurdle for using them. Many brands come in a cardboard box, which I open by holding the pack between my legs and tugging on the box top. But opening individual tampon wrappers can be nearly impossible for people using one hand.
Generally, tampons come with one of three types of applicators, and here’s what you should know about each:
- Cardboard applicators: These are the easiest to open for me because they typically come in paper packaging that I can tear using my teeth. I look for fully extended options so I don’t need to extend the applicator myself (which makes them more tedious). Generally, options labeled as “compact” are not fully extended. I recommend the original Tampax Cardboard Applicator tampons, which are available nearly anywhere (gas stations, grocery stores, and convenience stores).
- Plastic applicators: Many plastic applicator tampons come in stretchy plastic packaging that’s harder to tear than paper. When using plastic applicators, I buy the U by Kotex Click Compact tampons. The plastic wrapper is perforated horizontally, just about a centimeter from the top, making them easier to rip. To open these, I hold the tampon against my palm with my middle, ring, and pinky fingers and then use my thumb and index finger to tug on the perforated part. With these, I suggest buying the compact version because they are shorter and easier to rip open without using your teeth. (The perforation is generally located at the very end of the tampon, so the fully extended versions are longer and a little harder for me to rip open.) Plus, the applicators on these are shorter compared to other brands so I think they are easier to extend myself. A shorter applicator is also more accessible to smaller hand sizes. To extend these, I recommend the same technique that I use for opening the package.
- Applicator-free tampons: I avoid using these because they’re almost always tightly encased in plastic. For me, unraveling the plastic with one hand is a nightmare, especially since the tampon itself is pretty tiny. But if you like applicator-free tampons, then you may want to try out several to see if one is easier for you to use.
Menstrual cups and discs
If you’re not familiar with how these work, menstrual cups and discs are devices you can insert into your vagina to collect menstrual fluid. They’re most often made from medical-grade silicone or polymer, which can be slippery and make them difficult to fold using one hand. If you’re not holding one securely, the disc or cup can just pop back open before you can insert it. Here’s what to know about adapting each for your needs:
Menstrual cups: One major benefit of using cups is that you can go up to 12 hours without changing or cleaning one (depending on your flow and the cup’s capacity). As a one-handed user, this means less frequent worries about struggling with a menstrual product, which I love. You can buy reusable cups that you need to clean or single-use versions that you throw away, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Ultimately, cup accessibility when you’re using one hand comes down to how malleable your cup is. I’ve found that thicker ones are generally stiffer and harder for me to fold. My personal favorite is the SAALT Soft Cup because the thinner silicone material and ridges at the bottom of the cup make it easier for me to fold and insert. Some people use a lubricant when putting in their cups for added comfort, but that makes holding onto it trickier. Instead, I use a little bit of water. SAALT has instructions for inserting a cup on its website, and I’ve found that the “punch down” method is the easiest using one hand. To do this, I hold the cup with my middle finger and thumb, then push my index finger on the rim to slightly collapse the cup. If you have trouble folding in mid-air with one hand, a good trick is to try using your thigh to support the cup while you fold it. I keep pinching the cup with my thumb and index finger to hold it in place while I insert it.
A note on removal: It’s a good idea to prep your toilet paper before removing your cup because you’ll be holding a full cup in your good hand and won’t have a free one to tear the toilet paper. Thank me later.
And another note on cup cleaning: With a reusable cup, I find it’s easier to set the device directly in a shot glass to keep it upright. This way, you can pour a bit of gentle soap directly into the cup rather than trying to hold it, pour the soap, and lather it all with one hand at the same time.
Discs: These are similar to cups except they rest higher up in your vagina at the base of your cervix whereas cups stay lower in your vagina. I’ve found that discs are a bit flatter and wider compared to cups and don’t need to be folded. Instead, I just pinch one between two fingers and insert it. This makes them a good alternative to cups if you’re struggling to fold things with one hand. However, removing a disc can be a little trickier since the product is more shallow and flimsier. I like using the Lumma Reusable Menstrual Disc because it has a toggle stem (similar to string on a tampon) that makes reaching and removing it simpler.
Opening, peeling, and applying pads can be tedious when using one hand. I almost always use my teeth to help me unfold the plastic packaging that encases a pad and to remove the sticky backing too. And if the pad has wings (as many do), the tricky part is to make sure the wings don’t fold over and stick to the bottom of the pad. Then, I have to stabilize my underwear while lining up the pad where I want to stick it, which I think is the hardest part.
I use reusable pads from Period Aisle because this eliminates dealing with finicky packaging after my first use. (And they still have various sizes to suit my needs.) I prefer to buy black or other dark colors, so I don’t need to scrub out stains, which is very challenging to do with one hand. Most fabric pads come with snap attachments that I find easy to pop open and closed with one hand. To do this, I use my thumb and index finger to pull on one side of the fabric while I push down on the side containing the other snap by wrapping my middle finger around it. I recommend securing the pad/liner while your underwear is already partially pulled up. (I use my legs to keep my underwear pulled apart and taught while I attach the pad to it.)
If you stock up on enough of these to avoid running out, throwing something in the wash can be a lot easier than constantly dealing with inaccessible packaging. Panties are pretty easy to pull on without two hands, so that’s why I find period underwear to be the most one-hand accessible menstrual product. Finding the right pair for you could potentially eliminate your need to reach for any other product. So, assuming that putting on underwear is something you’re already doing daily, you might be able to survive your period without needing to change up too much of your routine.
I like Thinx and RubyLove because they come in a variety of sizes. (Thinx is available in sizes XXS to 4X while RubyLove is available in S to 3X.) Thinx makes underwear and shorts with different levels of absorbancies, and claims that some options hold up to five tampons’ worth of menstrual fluid. I rely on the Thinx Sleep Shorts to sleep through the night without any leakage. RubyLove makes swimwear so you don’t need to worry (or worry as much, at least) about dealing with products like tampons at the pool or beach.
When you’re already in pain, you don’t want access to products to be a pain. But unfortunately, some ways people relieve their discomfort, like drinking tea or taking ibuprofen, can have accessibility challenges for one-handed users. This is almost always due to tricky packaging and child-proof containers.
Pain relief is very personal, but adaptations can help you set yourself up for success. For example, I have a lot of trouble opening pill bottles. I start by having someone help me transfer all medications into containers that are easy for me to open with one hand. Just make sure that you’re relabeling whatever container you’re using (or reusing) so it matches what you’re putting in it to avoid some potentially dangerous confusion.
Tea is also a go-to relief for many, but tea bags can be a hassle to open, especially if they’re wrapped in plastic. I recommend pouring loose-leaf tea into a container you can easily open and using a pincer infuser to help you more easily portion out your tea. Or, you can try a brand that comes with unwrapped bags.
Massages and heat crams
Trying to massage your own lower back with two hands isn’t great. And it’s even worse with one. If you can, try using a massage gun that can reach the sore areas. I love the Theragun Mini because it’s not as heavy as other massage devices and has an ergonomic design that makes it comfortable to grip. It also operates with a single button that’s easy to reach with the same hand you’re holding it in.
If you like to apply heat creams, try something in stick or roll-on form so you don’t need to touch the product and get it all over your hand. Having one clean hand is essential so you can turn on your sink and wash your hand without first getting heat cream all over the faucet handle (and subsequently your eyes). Good old roll-on Icy Hot is my top recommendation here. It also comes with a ridged cap which makes gripping and opening with one hand a pleasure.
Finding the right period care for you takes some trial and error, so you might need to experiment with various brands to find the best products for your particular situation. Hopefully, these recommendations are a good starting point and help reduce some of the frustrations that come with managing your period with one hand.
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