Period pain, either in the lead up to, or during the period, can range from what is considered mild all the way up to debilitating. Many people believe that this pain is just something they need to learn to live with, but acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help to reduce its severity and duration.
Primary dysmenorrhea (period pain) is the most common gynaecological complaint for women, with up to 80% of women experiencing it at some point. Recent research has shown that acupuncture can significantly reduce the pain experienced, and the need for pain killers. And not only has pain been reduced during these studies, but so have other symptoms that can be associated with period pain, such as nausea and headaches.
What causes period pain?
In terms of Chinese medicine, period pain is due to stagnation in the lower abdomen and pelvic region. This may sound strange, but what it is essentially saying is that the regular shedding of the lining of the uterus is not happening as smoothly as it could be. There can be a number of causes, ranging from hormonal imbalances, stress, diet and lifestyle reasons, right up to more significant pain caused by endometriosis or fibroids.
Physically, the pain is caused by an increase in both the tension and frequency of the contraction of the uterine muscles. The muscles are also not fully relaxing in between the contractions, leading to more tension, and more pain. This leads to changes in the micro-circulation in the uterus, which is the cause of the stagnation we are trying to correct with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
How acupuncture and herbs can help with period pain
Studies have found a number of different ways that acupuncture can help to reduce period pain. Firstly, acupuncture can help to stimulate the body’s own natural pain relieving substances, called endogenous opioids. It also helps to reduce local inflammation, alters uterine blood flow, and balances prostaglandin levels. As this approach addresses a number of different potential issues, it can improve the chance of more successful results.
Chinese herbal formulas can also help to bring down period pain, by using warming herbs as well as natural anti-inflammatories (eg. ginger). This means that ultimately you don’t need to come into the clinic as often, as you are taking something daily that is complementing the acupuncture treatment.
Some herbs that are commonly used for period pain are quite well known, such as ginger, safflower, white peony root, angelica root, and fennel, and these will be found in the more common formulas that I prescribe.
What a treatment journey for period pain may look like for you
At your first appointment, we’ll go through a thorough medical history, including any testing you may have had with a GP or specialist. I’ll also ask for a list of any medications or natural supplements you are taking. I use a combination of acupuncture and heat therapy, and often combine it with either Chinese herbal medicine or Western natural supplements, to help enhance the effect. I use very fine needles, you won’t feel much when they go in, and I’ll then leave you to rest with the needles in place for 20-30 minutes. Most patients find it extremely relaxing, and come out feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.
We’ll catch up for acupuncture weekly initially, and I’ll review how things are proceeding. After a few weekly appointments, and once your comfortably taking supplements, it is usually only necessary to see you fortnightly until your symptoms feel well managed. I’ll be able to give you a better idea of a treatment plan once I’ve seen you a few times and I can see how you’re responding.
Armour, M., Dahlen, H., Zhu, X., Farquhar, C. & Smith, C. (2017). PLoS One, 12(7): doi: 10.137/journal.pone.0180177
HealthCMI (2017). Acupuncture for painful menstruation relief finding.
Li, G., Liu, A., Lin, M., Liao, S. & Wen, W. (2020) Chinese herbal formula siwutang for treating primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Maturitas, 138: 26-35.