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Treating Painful Periods with Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine has a longstanding history of treating reproductive health. While acupuncture and herbal fertility medicine are rising in interest among the public, there are also other aspects of reproductive health and wellness that are lesser-known to be treated by Chinese Medicine. When wondering if acupuncture can treat a certain ailment, it is important to remember that Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine that does not rely on any outside modalities or Western diagnostics. While a practitioner may use this type of information to create an integrative and holistic treatment plan, Chinese Medicine has a unique way of assessing and addressing reproductive health. One of the most common ailments in the clinic is the treatment of menstrual cramps and regulating the period.

Dealing with Dysmenorrhea

The term dysmenorrhea is used to describe painful periods that can consist of cramping, throbbing, stabbing, or other discomforts that are experienced monthly for many people. Even if every period isn’t painful, some people experience menstruation as debilitatingly intrusive to their daily life. This can easily cause issues when a person needs to carry on with their tasks and responsibilities, but cannot do so due to the excruciating nature of their experience. Others have more mild symptoms of discomfort, though this can become quite bothersome. Western medicine currently differentiates between primary and secondary dysmenorrhea; primary meaning there is no known cause, secondary meaning the dysmenorrhea is due to a physical issue or blockages like fibroids or endometriosis.

As a complete system of medicine, Chinese Medicine uses its categorization and diagnostic assessment to determine the root cause of the issue and dig deep into resolving it. For painful periods, multiple diagnoses are common, but the most prevalent is called qi stagnation, blood stagnation, or blood deficiency. These each present with unique symptoms and indicators that allow the practitioner to determine how to treat and where to focus first.

Qi Stagnation Symptoms

A person experiencing Qi stagnation may feel a dull and achy pain with symptoms of PMS. According to the medicine, Qi, the energy of the body, must move smoothly through the liver and the entire body for ovulation and menstruation to occur. People with Liver Qi stagnation experience PMS symptoms of bloating, irritability, or breast tenderness during ovulation. Additionally, during menstruation, they often have cramping and painful periods that are dull, crampy, or colicky. They may also feel angry or emotional during this time or feel intense fatigue and desire to rest. A combination treatment of acupuncture and herbs is used to treat this pattern. Many people experience great relief from using a traditional herbal formula called Xiao Yao San (Rambling Powder or Free and Easy Wanderer). This formula is typically taken for a week before the period is due to start and can be continued during the period. This formula has been used for thousands of years and was first recorded by Chen Shiwen in 1080.

Blood Stagnation Symptoms

Another diagnosis for dysmenorrhea is painful periods due to blood stagnation. This most often displays as a sharp and stabbing pain that occurs with dark and clotted menstrual blood. Blood stagnation means the blood flow is impeded or obstructed. Additional indicators of blood stagnation can include easy bruising and abdominal tenderness. For this condition, Chinese herbal therapy uses the formula Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (Four Substance Tea with Safflower and Peach). This is taken during the first 3 days of the period to alleviate pain and move the blood while breaking up stasis.

Blood Deficiency Dysmenorrhea

The third common pattern for dysmenorrhea is for painful periods due to blood deficiency. This is a traditional pattern that is indicated by a dull pain that gets worse toward the end of the period or after the period ends. This is often accompanied by fatigue and a desire to lie down, as well as a pale face and nails. The herbal medicine Ba Zhen Tang (8 Treasure Tea) can bring relief for people experiencing this pattern. These herbs support both the qi and the blood and regulate menstruation.

Using Acupuncture To Relieve Pain

Herbal medicine used in combination with acupuncture can provide a comprehensive treatment to support and move the Qi, move the blood, and relieve stagnation. Two of the most popular points for treating dysmenorrhea are Spleen 6 (Sanyinjiao) and Large Intestine 4 (Hegu). Spleen 6 is located on the medial lower leg about one hand’s width up from the medial malleolus. Stimulating this point with acupuncture or acupressure is thought to release hormones that can bring relief from cramping and pain. A study conducted by S.M.A. Charandabi demonstrated that acupressure at the Spleen 6 point had a significant effect on reduction of the severity of menstrual symptoms, duration of resting period, and reduction in the number of ibuprofen used by patients in the study. The study also showed that pain severity in the first two months after treatment with acupressure was significantly lower than a comparative group using ibuprofen.

Some suggestions for alleviating menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea include:

  • Getting regular exercise and staying active. Exercising keeps the blood and Qi moving and can prevent stagnation. In Western terminology, exercise releases endorphins which relieve pains in the body.
  • Use moxibustion. Moxa is a traditional Chinese treatment that uses herbs to warm the body. It can be done over acupuncture points including Spleen 6 to regulate the menses and warm the uterus.
  • Consider supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids, which may alleviate menstrual cramps.
  • Supplement with magnesium to relax the muscles and encourage blood flow.
  • Try eating a low-fat and high-fiber diet. Eat plenty of greens and beets during your cycle and nourish with seeds and healthy oils.
  • Try taking Vitamin E for a few days before and during the period. This can facilitate the shedding of the uterine lining.

Are you or someone you know suffering from painful menses?  If so, schedule your complimentary 15-minute consult to learn about our approach to restoring hormonal health. 

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