Article about treating menstrual cramps with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
Whenever I tell a woman that Chinese medicine can help make her menstrual cramps a thing of the past, she regards me with a great deal of skepticism. I understand, as I once suffered from cramps so intense that I routinely took six ibuprofen at a time during my periods, just to be able to function. My doctors always told me this was “normal” and until I asked for it in my 20’s, never even offered me stronger pain medication.
When I learned in my first year of acupuncture school that the Chinese do not consider intense menstrual cramps “normal”, I was flabbergasted. I went straight to my own acupuncturist, who at the time was focusing on treating me for asthma and allergies, and I asked her to help me with my cramps. She did and I was amazed at how well they worked! Since then I’ve used a number of different formulas, mostly with success, and feel extremely confident in the ability of Chinese Medicine to help my patients eliminate painful periods.
Pain during the period indicates a stagnation of Blood, often from exposure to cold or a deficiency of Yang (the warming, moving aspect of the body) with an accumulation of Phlegm and Damp (too much Yin in relationship to Yang). Western diagnoses that fit the category of Blood Stagnation, Yang Deficiency and Accumulation of Phlegm/Damp include endometriosis, a common cause of severe menstrual pain, ovarian cysts, fibroid tumors and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Not all of these conditions cause pain and not every case of painful periods indicates one of the above conditions. However, pain during your period is a clue that all is not well with your reproductive system and I don’t believe that any woman should be allowed to suffer month after month when there are effective, natural treatments.
Acupuncture, for its part, is very effective at regulating the menstrual cycle in general and at moving the body’s Qi (energy). Blood stagnation is the end result of Qi stagnation, so anything that moves Qi, including vigorous exercise, will likely help correct Blood stagnation over the long term. Heat can be another effective therapy, applied as moxibustion (a mugwort stick burned over the skin and around acupuncture needles), castor oil packs, a hot water bottle or heating pad applied to your belly or your lower back. Cold obstructs the free flow of Qi and Blood, so it’s also considered wise to avoid cold food and drink (ice water, ice cream, etc.) and to avoid becoming chilled after outdoor exercise just before and during your period.
In my clinical experience, Chinese herbal medicine can significantly reduce menstrual pain in about two to three cycles. We use ingredients like red peony root, angelica root and others to treat Blood Stagnation, cinnamon and ginger to treat Yang Deficiency and poria (a mushroom) to treat Phlegm/Damp. Each formula is based on ancient, tried-and-true recipes that have worked for centuries and which can be custom-blended to meet your individual needs. I recommend that my patients continue taking herbs regularly for six to twelve months and then as needed for recurring symptoms. It’s important to note that if you are trying to get pregnant, some of these herbs are not appropriate for use throughout your cycle, so it’s best to consult a Licensed Acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist for guidance.
Are you interested in learning more about how acupuncture and Chinese herbs could help you? Call us at 603-924-6624 to book a free 15-minute consultation or book your first appointment online.