Woman of all ages regularly come to see me at the acupuncture clinic for help with pain around menstruation. A small amount of cramping and aching is normal on the first day, but for many the pain is unbearable and disrupts everyday life. Painful periods with no serious underlying causes is known as ‘primary dysmennorhoea’ – there is no obvious medical reason why this happens. Pain that is related to conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids is called ‘secondary dysmennorhoea’. This too responds well, though these conditions deserve a separate article to themselves.
In Chinese medicine, pain is seen as ‘stagnation’, and usually with severe period pain we call it ‘blood stagnation’. The underlying cause of this stagnation can be a combination of many things and the job of your acupuncturist is to work out what these may be. Acupuncture visualizes everything in the body in constant motion, slowly and gently. The pain results when the blood and Qi of the pelvis can’t move in the direction it needs to, instead it sits and creates a blockage like a dam, and as the pressure builds up you feel more and more discomfort.
I really see very good results using acupuncture, diet and lifestyle changes. My top tips for managing primary dysmennorhea are the following;
1. Acupuncture regularly – in the second half of the cycle. I usually ask to see my clients twice before their expected period starts. I needle directly on the lower abdomen and the legs using lots of heat to relax the muscles. Sometimes we also work on the lower back and sacrum too. It really doesn’t hurt. The needles just sit under the skin and once in place, the body responds to them by releasing a whole load of various substances which will aid in general pelvic circulation. You can’t usually feel this happening ( some women will be aware of tingling and warmth or muscles relaxing), but it takes around 20-30 mins which is why you will just be lying there listening to music and daydreaming.
2. Discourage ‘bad prostaglandins’ by reducing all meat and dairy produce – small amounts can be taken (they must be organic). Prostaglandins are present in all cells of the body and most have a beneficial effect. There are a few that are related to constriction and inflammation and too much of these types will cause an imbalance. Women suffering with severe dysmennorhea are found to have higher levels of two particular types of prostaglandins known as PGF2 and PGE2. The fuel the body needs to make these ‘negative prostaglandins comes from arachidonic acid which is abundant in meat and dairy. So cutting these out will make it harder for the body to produce PGE2.
3. Encourage ‘Good Prostaglandins’ – To tip everything in our favour we need to add certain things into our diet. Lots of the ‘good prostaglandins’ will help the uterus contract beautifully and with ease. Adding in lots of oily fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens will do this. You also need to have adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in your diet so that your body can create these good prostaglandins. Everything should be present in a varied healthy wholefood diet, but if your diet is compromised you may need to take these as supplements short term to boost your levels.
4. Pelvic stretches – absolutely essential for getting good circulation going. I have a set of yoga stretches I show to each woman that really get deep into the groin. There are plenty of short videos on You Tube for inspiration too. You want to be doing 10-15 mins every 2 days initially. The 5 days before your period you must do every day. Everyone can find time to do 10 mins – once you are familiar with the stretches you can do them in front of the TV in the evenings. After a few months you will probably not need to do them so often as the overall circulation has improved. The one exercise to avoid if you suffer from painful periods is of course sit-ups.
As with many things in natural and complementary medicine – it is the combination of a few small changes here and there which give dramatic results. In acupuncture we don’t accept that severe pain at menstruation is ‘normal’ and something to be put up with. Working with your body requires time and patience and a genuine desire to get to know yourself. Using the 4 interventions above, I see huge reductions in the monthly pain within 6-10 weeks. If you or someone you know suffers with debilitating cramps – please get in touch with the clinic to see how we can help you.