Acupuncture for Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, are any pains that happen in the lower abdomen (below the belly button) before or during a woman’s period. Besides the lower abdomen there can also be pain in the low back and sacral areas or radiating down the legs. Menstrual cramps can be anywhere from mildly annoying to severe enough to affect daily activities, even causing nausea or vomiting in some cases.
There are two general types of menstrual cramps, known as primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea:
- Primary dysmenorrhea: The more common type of cramps, these have no underlying cause according to Western medicine. The pain begins just before or during menstruation, usually last for 2-4 days. A study from 2005 on the prevalence of primary dysmenorrhea in Canada found that 60% of women experienced it, with 60% of those describing their pain as moderate to severe, and 51% whose daily activities has been limited.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea: These types of cramps are less common and are caused by a problem in the woman’s reproductive organs such endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, cervical stenosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
What are the most common causes of menstrual cramps?
In primary dysmenorrhea, the pain is associated with the hormone-like substance prostaglandin. This substance is naturally released to help the body expel the lining of the uterus by helping to trigger uterine muscle contractions. When these contractions happen, some of the blood supply to the muscles and tissues of the uterus can be cut off, causing pain. The pain of primary dysmenorrhea usually decreases with age and increases with smoking, while other factors like obesity, physical activity, and alcohol are less clearly related.
In secondary dysmenorrhea, the pain can be caused by infection, increased pressure inside the uterus, or abnormal tissue growth.
Standard Western medical treatments
For less severe menstrual cramps the typical treatment is over the counter pain medication taken at regular intervals during the time the cramps are expected. For more severe cases hormonal birth control is often prescribed to moderate hormone levels and decrease the pain. Both options are effective for pain relief. In the case of an underlying condition like fibroids or endometriosis, surgical removal is often suggested.
How can Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture treat menstrual cramps?
With menstrual cramps, the blood and oxygen supply to the uterus are decreased, which is the result of an underlying pathology. Chinese Medicine excels at increasing the blood flow and oxygen levels in the body, thus increasing the proper nourishment of muscles and tissues. Things like emotional stress, overworking, chronic illness, exposure or cold, too much sexual activity, or giving birth to many children can all contribute to more severe cramps.
How can Acupuncture help treat menstrual cramps?
Acupuncture aims to correct the body’s energy flow and promote overall well being. While the symptom may be menstrual cramps, acupuncture aims to target the underlying cause and strengthen the body to not only relieve the pain, but prevent it from returning. More specifically, acupuncture can help to regulate the body’s hormones via endocrine system, and help increase endorphin levels, thereby effectively relieving and preventing recurrent pain.
In a study of 43 women, 90% of those who received acupuncture reported improvement in their menstrual cramps (compared to 18% in the control group) and reported a 41% decrease in the amount of pain medication they were taking. Another study found that after only 2-4 treatments, women with primary dysmenorrhea saw an improvement in symptoms. For women with menstrual cramps that were resistant to the effects of pain medication or oral contraceptives, acupuncture was found to substantially reduce pain and medication required in 87% of patients, while 46% ceased taking any medication at all and remained asymptomatic 6 months after treatment.
Getting acupuncture treatment for menstrual cramps can improve your pain and quality of life compared to using other conventional treatments alone.
If you or a loved one are experiencing menstrual cramps, please do not hesitate to contact us to find out if/how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit you.