Painful Menstrual Cycles Are Not “Normal”

A painful menstrual cycle (dysmenorrhea) refers to the cyclical abdominal pain which is experienced during or before menstruation. Generally, it is a cramping in the abdomen, lower back, or a pulling sensation in the lower thighs. This pain can also be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea or constipation. In addition, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that can begin one or two weeks prior to menstruation, can include the symptoms listed above as well as tension, anxiety, depressed mood, mood swings, irritability, anger, appetite changes, food cravings, breast tenderness, weight gain from water retention and abdominal swelling. The term “primary dysmenorrhea” is used to describe pain that is the normal result of menstruation and the term “second dynsmenorrhea” refers to pain during menstruation which is caused by abnormal conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of women have at least 1 PMS symptom as part of a monthly cycle. The following can contribute to these symptoms:

  • low levels of vitamins and minerals
  • eating a lot of salty food may increase fluid retention
  • drinking alcohol and caffeine may alter mood and energy         

Typically Western medicine treats menstrual pain by dealing with the formation of prostaglandins, an inflammatory substance produced abundantly by the body during the menstrual cycle. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that all forms of pain are signs of deeper issues. Patients may have the same disease but the reasons for the expression of that disease may be different for each individual. For example, one woman experiencing pain during the menstrual cycle may be the result of a cold condition while another may be caused by heat in the system, or the result of a stagnation of blood in the uterus, etc. The differentiation of the pattern in each case is the foundation for determining both acupuncture and herbal formula therapies. The frequency of treatment and the optimal times of the month to receive treatment depends upon the individual’s pattern.  Typically, significant changes can be experienced within three menstrual cycles when treating “primary dysmenorrhea.” Acupuncture and herbal formulas used in conjunction create the best outcomes for dysmenorrhea and PMS.

Acupuncture has been gaining credibility in the treatment of menstrual irregularities for decades. The Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, CA conducted a clinical study in 1987 in which 10 of 11 participants (90.9%) of the RA or “Real Acupuncture” control group showed improvement in levels of pain.

In 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study of the efficacy of acupuncture for menstrual irregularities. The results—93.3% of the acupuncture control group experienced a significant reduction in severity of pain within one year of treatment. Today, both NIH and the World Health Organization (WHO) list Menstrual Irregularities as one of the more than 40 conditions that acupuncture has proven to treat effectively.  What was once believed to be something that a woman must simply endure every month for the entirety of her reproductive life, is now a myth of the past.

Anita Alexandra, L.Ac., CH is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist with 16+ years of experience. She practices at Chiropractic Health and Acupuncture, 619 Main Street, Frisco. (970)668-3299

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