Using Chinese Medicine to Treat Menstrual Cramps
As acupuncturists who specialize in women’s health, we meet plenty of women who suffer from menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea is the technical term for the dull throbbing abdominal pain that some women experience during their periods. It can range from a mild annoyance to the kind of severe pain that can ruin several days each month. Western doctors classify menstrual cramps as either primary or secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea has no known cause whereas secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by a physical problem such as fibroids or endometriosis.
In Chinese medicine there are several diagnoses but the most common are qi stagnation, blood stagnation or blood deficiency.
Qi stagnation causes a dull achy pain and women with qi stagnation also often complain of PMS symptoms. Women with menstrual cramps due to qi stagnation often get a lot of relief from a formula called Xiao Yao San (Rambling Powder), which should be taken for a week before the period is due as well as during the period.
Blood stagnation causes sharp stabbing pain and is accompanied by dark menstrual blood with clots. Women who suffer from these type of menstrual cramps respond well to a formula called Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (Four Substance Tea with Safflower and Peach) which should be taken for the first 3 days of the period.
Blood deficiency causes a dull pain that is worse towards the end of the period or after the period is over. It is accompanied by fatigue and pallor. Women who have this kind of cramps find the formula Ba Zhen Tang (Eight Treasure Tea) useful.
Our advice to our YinOva patients who suffer from menstrual cramps is as follows:-
- Exercise regularly. Exercise moves blood and qi in Chinese medicine and so helps to counteract blood and qi stagnation. In more conventional terms exercise increases endorphins which are your body’s natural pain killer.
- An acupuncture and moxabustion treatment can really help your cramps. The most important point we use is Spleen 6, which is on the inner calf. In Chinese medicine this point moves blood and relieves pain.
- Taking the correct Chinese herbs for your pattern can bring relief. Ask us for our help in suggesting a formula that will be suitable for you.
- There have been several studies into Omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to improve menstrual cramping.
- Magnesium, which helps with blood flow and relaxes muscles, has been shown in at least one study to help relieve dysmenorrhea.
- According to a Georgetown University study women who adopted a low fat, high fiber diet reported a significant decrease in menstrual cramps.
- Taking Vitamin E (200g) for 3 days before the period is due until the 3rd day of the period helped to relieve cramps in a large Iranian study. This is because the cramps result from the release of substances called prostaglandins. Their purpose is make the uterus contract in order to expel the uterine lining. Vitamin E can inhibit the formation of prostaglandins and therefore help menstrual cramps.
- Massage may be helpful. You can massage yourself by placing your hands over your naval. Begin making small circles in a clockwise direction. This should be done slowly with moderate pressure for about a minute, and then gradually increase the size of the circling until you are rubbing the entire abdomen.
- A hot pack or hot water bottle on the lower abdomen can soothe cramps.
- A warm bath with aromatherapy oils such as lavender, chamomile and clary sage is soothing and these oils are known for their ability to relieve cramps.
You should consult your doctor if your cramps are so severe they disrupt your life and also if you suddenly start to have menstrual cramps having never experienced them before.