Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhoea, refers to the overall discomfort and pain experienced by women during their periods. This is typically described as lower abdomen pain that often lasts two to three days and occurs shortly before or during a menstrual cycle. Women of all ages can experience period pain. However, the younger you are, the more likely you are to get them. Some studies have shown that about 75% of adolescent females and 25–50% of adult females suffer pain and distress throughout their menstrual cycle.
Typically, the pain is minor and considered a normal symptom in the menstrual cycle. However, excessive pain or pain which leads to decreased ability to carry out usual day-to-day activities is abnormal. Over 50% of women suffer from dysmenorrhea, which results in substantial personal and public health issues, a high absenteeism rate, and severe economic loss.
Conventional treatment for period pain is aimed at relieving pain and includes over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or hormone medications. However, these medications may also have side effects such as nausea, upset stomach, indigestion, peptic ulcer and diarrhoea. Some people find relief through alternative medicine practices such as acupuncture and Chinese medicines. These practices can help with relaxation, release of muscle tension, and enhancement of blood flow throughout the body.
What is period pain?
Each month, a protective layer of your womb (uterus) grows and thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If you are not pregnant, your body breaks down and replaces the lining of tissue and blood around every 28 days. This is referred to as menstruation, and is a part of the menstrual cycle.
Contractions of the uterus that assist in removing the layer can cause period cramps for one or more days. It is believed that certain women generate more prostaglandins, causing the womb to squeeze harder, therefore increasing the pain. Prostaglandins are the contraction-triggering chemicals in your body. You may have cramping pain in the lower abdomen and the lower back or thighs several days or shortly before your period. The pain reaches its peak within 24 hours after the commencement of bleeding, and often subside as menstruation tapers off.
What are the symptoms of period pain?
Each individual may experience symptoms differently. However, the most frequent symptoms are lower back pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, leg pain, stomach discomfort, diarrhea, tiredness, headache, and even fainting. The severity of the condition varies from moderate to severe and debilitating. Since symptoms of dysmenorrhea may mirror those of other illnesses or medical conditions, you should always seek a professional diagnosis.
What causes period pain?
Period pain can occur due to chemicals called prostaglandins being released from the uterus lining during your period. Prostaglandins induce contractions of the uterine muscles, which may cause discomfort in some women. Although the exact reason why some women have more severe period pain than others is unknown, women with higher prostaglandin levels may experience more severe cramps and discomfort. The levels are the highest right before your period begins, which coincides with the most common and severe period discomfort. After a day or two, prostaglandin levels decrease, and the pain typically subsides.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) menstrual discomfort is caused by qi and blood stagnation. According to TCM, blood must be abundant and sufficiently moving to have a normal and pain-free period.
How can acupuncture and TCM help with relieving period pain?
There is good evidence to suggest that acupuncture can help ease period pain and reduce the duration of the menstrual cramps is experienced. Unlike analgesics, acupuncture works not only just relieve the symptoms as they occur but also help alleviate period pain for future cycles. Recent systematic evaluations of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) revealed that acupuncture and acupressure are effective therapies for primary dysmenorrhoea, giving considerably more pain alleviation than pharmaceutical treatments.
The research published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology in 2013 provided evidence that acupuncture helps relieve primary period pain. The study enrolled 35 young women with a primary dysmenorrhoea diagnosis. They were separated into two groups: those who received acupuncture and those who received medication. These young women with dysmenorrhoea were given one-month acupuncture treatments, and their pain ratings were evaluated. They discovered that acupuncture is just as efficient as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relieving period pain. While 52% of women in the pharmaceutical group saw decreased pain, over 70% of the acupuncture group experienced reduced pain. Furthermore, significant pain relief was achieved without the undesirable side effects commonly associated with the use of painkillers.
In 2017, Dr. Mike Armour of Western Sydney University in Australia, and his colleagues from University of Auckland in New Zealand and also in Australia, conducted a study to test acupuncture’s effectiveness in relieving menstrual cramps. Their findings showed acupuncture can lessen the severity and reduce the length of period pain. The researchers were surprised to discover that manual acupuncture can lower period pain severity and duration by up to 50%. The women having acupuncture treatment more frequently experienced more substantial improvements in period pain intensity, associated symptoms, and overall quality of life. Their research was published in PLOS One. However, they do recognise that more extensive studies are needed to develop thorough, reliable guidelines in details to use acupuncture treatments for the management of period pain. According to Dr Armour, “Pragmatic trials of acupuncture have shown a reduction in pain intensity and an improvement in quality of life in women with period pain. However, evidence has been limited for how changing the ‘dosage’ of acupuncture might affect the outcome.”
Systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) found that acupuncture may help ease symptoms of period pain through the following:
- Stimulating the release of vascular and immunomodulatory substances to alleviate inflammation.
- Modulating the neuroendocrine activity and associated receptor expression.
- Stimulating the nerves in muscles and other tissues and releasing endorphins and other neurohumoral substances.
- Promoting relaxation and alleviating stress and tension.
- Increasing nitric oxide generation, relaxing smooth muscle, and decreasing uterine contractions.
Your acupuncturist will treat the pain by removing the Qi stagnation and blood stasis. The underlying cause of the pain will also be addressed using herbs. While some may believe that cramping is merely a part of the terrible things that women go through, traditional Chinese medicine believes that it indicates an imbalance in the body that may be addressed.
Acupuncture has long been recognised to effectively manage pains in the body. Furthermore, it can help the body combat pain-producing causes by boosting endorphin levels in the blood. Most significantly, acupuncture and TCM take a natural and holistic approach to healthcare to find the underlying causes of the body’s imbalance that results in painful menstruation.
Who needs Acupuncture Treatment for Period Pain?
We highly suggest acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment to women who have side effects with the pill or IUDs and those who would prefer natural medicine to manage their menstruation pain. Acupuncture can be used to relieve adolescents’ period discomfort. Those who will be receiving treatment should abstain from the pill for two years to allow their ovaries to mature and adjust to their changing bodies. Moreover, those who have concerns about conceiving after taking the pill may choose to consider a natural treatment for menstrual irregularity and pain. However, you should first see your physician.
How many acupuncture sessions are needed to treat menstrual pain?
Usually you would experience the a decrease in presenting symptoms within the first month of treatment. The improvement is then sustained throughout subsequent menstrual cycles. Patients are encouraged to visit once a week for the first menstrual cycle and reduce their treatments depending on their response. Your acupuncturist will discuss with you for a individualised treatment plan.
How can we help?
Our mission at Baolin Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Centre is to provide patients with high-quality TCM therapy tailored to their unique healthcare requirements. Our skilled and experienced practitioners utilise acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments customised for each patient to address the underlying imbalance causing the period discomfort and manage symptoms. During the initial appointment, your practitioner will assess your general health to determine the cause of your period discomfort. Individual herbal formulas comprised of various herbs are given to fit each individual’s health condition and address their underlying issue. Acupuncture treatment is also customised for each patient by developing unique acupuncture points. Additionally, you will get advice for your dietary and life style changes that can help you manage your period pain.
For more information on acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for managing period pain, please contact us at our clinics (Perth: 9228 8828; Subiaco: 9380 4171). Alternatively, you can send us your queries through our online contact page.