Acupuncture for menstrual cramps
Acupuncture is an ancient method of treatment that is effective in relieving menstrual cramps. Studies have found that acupuncture reduces the intensity of period pain, as well as the duration of pain.(1) For many patients, these improvements last for several months or even years. It not only decreases pain and cramping but also reduces headache, dizziness, digestive issues, faintness, mood changes, tiredness nausea and vomiting.
Acupuncture works by correcting the underlying imbalance in the body causing the cramps leading to long-term relief and improvement in overall health. Once we correct the underlying imbalances in the body, the body can work to heal itself. Research has shown that it also controls pain by stimulating blood circulation, regulating hormones, and increasing the body’s production of natural pain relievers such as endorphins.
My approach is to combine customized therapies such as acupuncture, electroacupuncture, cupping, and herbal medicine to for provide relief for painful periods and endometriosis. Many women are able to cut down on their need for medications or avoid taking it at all.
In this article, I will tell you how acupuncture works to treat painful periods, share clinical research that shows it works, and share how we create personalized acupuncture treatments to relieve your painful periods.
What Causes Painful Periods?
During your period your uterus contracts to help eliminate its lining. Prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation, trigger uterine muscle contractions. Prostaglandin levels that are higher than normal are associated with more severe menstrual cramps.
Endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and other conditions are often the cause of painful periods. Importantly, acupuncture can treat dysmenorrhea from stemming from any of these issues.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture helps relieve pain by balancing hormones in the body. It also regulates blood flow, reduces muscle spasms, and reduces inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory chemicals which cause painful periods.
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on correcting the underlying imbalance that is causing your illness. When you come in, we will discuss your medical history including details of your menstrual cycle, triggers, and PMS symptoms as well as your digestion, headaches, stress levels, and sleep. This information provides me with a picture of the underlying imbalances which may be causing the cramps. The customized treatment plan will then focuses on restoring the body’s balance by correcting the underlying root cause of the disease.
Painful periods can be caused by a number of different imbalances. Common imbalances include:
- Qi Vacuity
- Qi and Blood Stagnation
- Cold stagnation
Qi circulates through the body and provides the energy for the body functions. Stress, injury, disease, and poor diet can cause imbalances in the qi. One common imbalance is called Qi vacuity. If there is a light menstrual flow, dull achy pain, poor digestion, and lack of energy, then the imbalance may be Qi Vacuity.
Qi stagnation occurs when there is circulation of qi is inhibited. Qi flows through the body in channels that connect the surface to the internal organs. Stress or trauma may cause the qi to stagnate. Signs of qi and blood stagnation include swinging emotions around your period, clots in your menstrual cycle, and a stringlike pulse.
Cold can also cause pain during menstrual cycle and is often involved in endometriosis. One of the main signs of cold stagnation is a deep stabbing pain during your period which may be relieved or improved from heat. This is the most intense type of period pain.
Because each person is unique, each person will get a customized treatment for their specific type of pain and symptoms.
This may include acupuncture, moxabustion, TDP heat lamps, electroacupuncture, and possibly herbal medicine. Your acupuncture treatment plan will depend on your specific needs. The acupuncture points which are commonly used are on the feet, legs, abdomen, and arms.
For Qi vacuity, acupuncture points may include:
- KI 3, Sp 6, Sp 9, St 36
- Ren 4, Zi Gong Xue
- Li 4
With Qi stagnation point may also include
- Sp 6, Liv 3, GB 34, GB 40
- Shen Men on the ear
- UB 23, Ub 32, UB 18
If cold is present, moxabustion may be done on the abdomen and back and to strengthen and move the qi as well as warm cold.
Patients will come in once or twice a week during the treatment course of 2-3 months.
Treatment effects are cumulative. After an initial treatment course, the greater the benefits and more long lasting they will be. Many patients remain healthy and pain free without reguarly needing acupuncture. For others, we may create a maintenance program with one visit every other week or once a month.
Herbal formulas can also be an important component of the treatment which has been used for centuries to relieve painful periods. Much like acupuncture, the herbal formulas are specifically designed to target the the root imbalance of your painful periods.
Traditionally, Chinese herbal medicine uses of specific combinations of herbs. Each formula consists of 4-12 herbs and is taken as a strong tea, pills, or sometimes a tincture. The some commonly used herbs for period pain include angelica root and red peony root which increase circulation of Qi and blood. Herbs such as licorice root and poria which boost Qi. Additionally, cinnamon bark and ginger warm the body and increase the amount of Qi. They also can harmonize other herbs.
One commonly used herbal formula is called Free and Easy Wanderer or Rambling Powder (Xiao Yao San). This is a gentle yet potent formula that is used to soothe the Liver, support the Spleen, clear heat, invigorate blood, and stop pain. It is often used if stress is a trigger for the pain.
This article is for educational purposes only does not serve as medical advice. Please consult a Chinese Medicine Practitioner before taking Chinese herbal medicine.
Recent studies confirm that acupuncture provides relief from menstrual pain. This study involved sixty young females between 17 and 23 years old were randomly assigned to either a receive acupuncture or no treatment (1). The women who received acupuncture had a significant decrease in menstrual cramps and pain. Other symptoms associated with painful periods such as dizziness, diarrhea, faintness, mood changes, tiredness nausea and vomiting, were also less than those who did not receive acupuncture.
Moxabustion is a common treatment which is used alongside acupuncture for painful periods. Moxibustion has several benefits, from reducing pain from injuries to easing muscle spasms associated with chronic fatigue.
Moxa is made from dried leaves of the mugwort plant. One method of using moxabustion is by holding a cigar-like moxibustion stick an inch away from the painful area. Also I will use moxabustion on specific acupuncture points such as Spleen 6.
Regulating the menstrual cycle
Another benefit of acupuncture is its ability to regulate the menstrual cycle. While cycles are generally 26-32 days, there are several factors that can affect this. It helps to regulate cycles by balancing hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, including FSH, estrogen, and AMH.
In addition, it can also help regulate irregular periods by regulating the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis (2). This is a feedback loop between the brain and the ovaries, which regulates the secretion of hormones.
This means that acupuncture helps you regulate your period and ovulation through balancing your hormones. These factors help improve the flow of blood in the uterus, which also helps the egg mature. Additionally, treatment can also increase the quality of a woman’s cervical fluid.
Treatment during different phases of your menstual cycle will have benefits. During the ovulation phase, acupuncture helps to regulate hormones, improve insulin sensitivity, and stimulate better blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. This is a time of the cycle for boosting the yin of the body. It also improves post-ovulation hormonal imbalances and prevent hormonal-related miscarriage. This is the yang time of the cycle. Treatments are tailored to the individual woman’s condition and may help restore regularity to her period and menstrual cycle as well as help enhance fertility.
Acupuncture is safe and effective for treating painful periods, and the risk of side effects is very low, when performed by trained experienced practitioner. The most common side effects include small bruises and tenderness at the acupuncture needle site. Acupuncture is very relaxing. Patient will often fall asleep or feel relaxed and floaty during the treatment.
Acupuncture is a powerful and effective method of treating menstrual cramps. It not only stops pain, but corrects the underlying imbalance in the body leading to overall improvement in wellness and health.
When the qi is not flowing in the right place, or there is not enough Qi, illness and symptoms occur. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine remove stagnant qi and blood, which alleviates pain by restoring balance. It also helps to balance hormones and relieve pain in the nervous system.
Using acupuncture, your TCM practitioner will identify the source of your pain and treat it using a combination of herbs and acupuncture. In this way, the root-cause of your pain will be addressed and you can begin to experience a more regular menstrual cycle with less pain. The treatments also help reduce stress, improve sleep, aid digestion, and help you feel better over all.
- Shetty, G. B., Shetty, B., & Mooventhan, A. (2018). Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Management of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Acupunct Meridian Stud, 11(4), 153-158. doi:10.1016/j.jams.2018.04.001
- Wang, S. J., Zhang, J. J., Yang, H. Y., Wang, F., & Li, S. T. (2015). Acupoint specificity on acupuncture regulation of hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal cortex axis function. BMC Complement Altern Med, 15, 87. doi:10.1186/s12906-015-0625-4
Feedback From our clients…
“I have been a patient of Dr. Alban’s for several months now and I can confidently say that my experience with acupuncture has been nothing short of miraculous. Prior to seeking treatment with Dr. Alban, I suffered from extremely painful periods that would leave me bedridden for days. Dr. Alban took the time to listen to my concerns and carefully crafted a treatment plan tailored to my specific needs. During each session, I found the environment to be calming and the needles virtually painless. The results have been remarkable. Since starting acupuncture with Dr. Alban, my menstrual pain has significantly decreased. I also feel more balanced and my digestion has improved. I highly recommend Dr. Alban and acupuncture to anyone suffering from menstrual pain or any other health concerns. The care and professionalism that I have received have been exceptional and have made a real difference in my life.”