Menstrual pain or period pain (dysmenorrhea) can be treated effectively with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Sometimes, moxibustion and Tui na (Chinese form of massage) may be used in conjunction with acupuncture as a complementary therapy.
You may wonder which treatment best suits your conditions. I will tailor a treatment plan with you after understanding your symptoms and menstrual history during a consultation, so that you are informed the treatment strategies and duration. TCM treats period pain in accordance with syndrome differentiation (in which your disharmony patterns will be identified) and the energetic changes of the four phases of your menstrual cycle.
Clinically, most people who complain of period pain present a combination of repletion and depletion at one time. TCM aims to correct the imbalances of the body to maintain good health. For treating dysmenorrhea, it is important to support the flow of qi with the goal of removing stagnation, and enhancing the circulation of blood flow to the pelvic area.
Acupuncture for treating period pain is usually recommended once to twice a week initially. As the woman shows improvement in subsequent cycles, the frequency of treatment can be reduced to fortnightly or monthly session to maintain menstrual wellness.
Commonly Used Acu Points in A Dysmenorrhea Treatment
Commonly used acupuncture points for treatment include the four gates, EX-8 (also named 子宫穴, the uterus point), GV-20 and SP-6. In most practice, more acupuncture points will be selected according to the woman’s syndrome differentiation and symptoms at that time.
Please tell me if you are trying to conceive because certain points are contraindicated during pregnancy.
The four gates is comprised of LR-3 (太冲) and LI-4 (合谷), which are located on the lower and upper limbs respectively. This combination is commonly used in treating pain caused by stagnation of liver qi as it promotes qi circulation in general. Specifically, LR-3 is on the back of the foot, between the first and second toes, about two fingers width from the web; LI-4 is located on the back of the hand, between the thumb and index finger, approximately in the middle of the second metacarpal bone on the radial side.
EX-8 (子宫穴) is located on the lower abdomen, 3 cun (approx. 4 fingers width) lateral to the midline, 4 cun down from the navel.
GV-20 (百会) is one of the most versatile points, often chosen for its function of raising emotional energy and relieving stress. It is located on the top of the head. Draw an imaginary line upward from the tip of each ear. The center of this imaginary line is where GV-20 is located.
SP-6 (三阴交), is the crossing point of Spleen, Kidney and Liver meridians (three yin meridians). It is widely used to nourish blood and yin. SP-6 is located approximately 4 fingers width upwards from the protruding bone on the inside of the ankle.
Dysmenorrhea – Some Additional Information
It’s common for many girls to have mild pain with their periods a couple of days each month. However, if your pain is not relieved with over-the-counter pain medicine, and you miss school or doing things with your friends because of it, you may have “dysmenorrhea” (pronounced: dis–men–o–ree–a).
What is dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is a medical term that means “difficult or painful periods”. There are two types of dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary.
- Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common kind of dysmenorrhea. Cramping pain in the lower abdomen (belly) can start from 1–2 days before your period begins and can last 2–4 days.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea is when cramps are a result of a medical problem such as endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside its normal location. This usually causes pain before and/or during a young woman’s menstrual period.
What causes dysmenorrhea?
The cramps you feel as a result of dysmenorrhea are caused by uterine contractions (when your uterus tightens and relaxes, allowing blood to leave your uterus). The lining of your uterus releases special chemicals called “prostaglandins” (pronounced: pross–ta–glan–dins). These chemicals are released from the lining of the uterus and increase the strength of the contractions, especially during the first couple of days of a woman’s menstrual cycle (when levels are high). High levels of prostaglandins may also cause nausea, diarrhea and lightheadedness.
What are the symptoms of dysmenorrhea?
Most young women who have dysmenorrhea have lower back pain and cramping in the lower area of the abdomen during their periods. This pain can range from dull to throbbing. Some girls may have other symptoms during their period such as nausea, vomiting, loose bowel movements/diarrhea, constipation, bloating in the belly area, headaches, and/or lightheadedness, all of which can be mild to severe.
Is it normal to have cramps during your period?
Yes, it’s normal to have mild cramps during your period, because of uterine contractions. The uterus is a muscle that tightens and relaxes. This can cause jabbing, or cramp–like pain. However, if the discomfort is not relieved with over-the-counter medications (such as ibuprofen) or causes you to miss school or other daily activities, it could mean that there is another reason for your symptoms.
Is it okay to exercise when I have my period?
Generally, it’s fine to exercise when you have your period, and it’s a great way to stay fit and healthy. Some girls like to exercise when they have their period; other girls are uncomfortable exercising during their period. Talk to your coach or gym teacher if exercising is uncomfortable during your period.
Are menstrual cramps the same as PMS (Pre–Menstrual Syndrome)?
Menstrual cramps are not the same as PMS. Symptoms of PMS such as mood swings, breast soreness, and bloating happen before a woman’s period begins and get a lot better when it starts. On the other hand, with dysmenorrhea, cramps are usually worse the first few days of a woman’s period and have a different cause and treatment.
How is dysmenorrhea treated?
- Anti-inflammatory medication – If your menstrual cramps are painful, you may want to take an over–the–counter nonsteroidal ant-inflammatory (NSAID) medication for 1–2 days of your period. If your pain is severe, you may want to begin taking an NSAID 1-2 days before your period starts. These medications are “anti–prostaglandins” (pronounced: an–tee–pross–ta–glan–dins), meaning that they work to stop the cramping effects of prostaglandins. They help to relieve discomfort, make your flow lighter, and cause your uterus to cramp less. Try over–the–counter medicine with ibuprofen or naproxen sodium in it. Make sure you read the label so you know how much and how often to take it. You should not take these medications if you are allergic to aspirin–like medications or if you have stomach problems (such as ulcers). Remember to always take these medications with food.
- Hormonal treatment – Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), also called birth control pills, as well as other hormonal treatments (patch, vaginal hormonal ring, Depo-provera, IUD and hormonal implants) are often prescribed because the hormones thin out the lining of the uterus which lessens the blood flow and cramping. These medications are sometimes prescribed continuously so you don’t get a period.
Is there anything else I can do to help my dysmenorrhea?
- Heat – Natural remedies such as a microwavable heating pack or a heating pad placed on your lower abdomen may help. Be sure to check that the heating pad is not too hot, as it can burn your skin.
- Soaking in a warm bath may also help to relieve cramps.
- Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that may be recommended to treat dysmenorrhea.
- Yoga is a type of exercise that has shown to help lessen menstrual cramps for some girls/women.
- Track your menstrual cycle with a period and pain tracker to see if there is a pattern to your pain–when it begins and ends.
What is a Period and Pain Tracker?
This is a tool to help you keep track of your menstrual cycle and any pain you may have; when it comes, where it hurts, how long it lasts, and what relieves it. It’s a good idea to keep track of your pain for about 3 cycles. Be sure to bring your completed Period and Pain Tracker with you when you have appointments with your health care provider or gynecologist.
Do I need to have any tests?
If comfort measures such as using a heating pad, exercising and taking over-the-counter medicine and/or hormonal treatment are not helpful, or the pain gets worse, make an appointment to see your health care provider (HCP) or gynecologist. Your HCP will decide if you need to have any tests such as a pelvic ultrasound. If you are sexually active, your HCP may test you for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you still have pain after 2-3 months of taking OCPs and mild pain medication, your HCP may talk to you about seeing a gynecologist and having a procedure called a laparoscopy to find out the cause of your pain.