Painful Periods

Natural Techniques to Help

Through Acupuncture + Self-care

Acupuncture is a natural technique which can effectively help manage painful periods and regulate cycles.

Painful periods (or dysmenorrhoea in medical terms) is painful cramps originating in the uterus just prior to or during menstruation. 25-50% of adult women and about 75% of adolescents experience pain with menstruation, and some 5-20% report severe pain that prevents them from carrying on with their usual activities.

That’s an awful lot of ladies suffering each month. Luckily, the Period Policy has just been introduced (read a little more about the Period Policy here) taking in to consideration the difficulties we often suffer month by month. Hooray!

But in addition to this, to help minimise interruption to your day to day life, acupuncture offers a natural technique in pain management, helping to re-establish a healthy flow.

Take a little read of my story below to help better understand your own body and the physiological imbalances according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

My Story

Heat, Stagnation & The Liver, in Chinese Medicine

Having come off my pill 7 months ago to re-balanace my body with nature and the moon cycle (I’m not a total hippy, there is science behind this), I started suffering with the age old hormonal symptoms that contraception often masks. Painful cramping on the day of my period, dragging sensations in the lower back and upper legs, inability to balance my body temperature etc. Although I absolutely love having a menstrual cycle – I believe it’s an intrinsic part of our divine femininity – many of my patients find the pain is just too much and the symptoms can be totally debilitating. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we attribute this disharmony to the Liver. The Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi and Blood throughout the body so it is therefore primarily responsible for our bleed each month. When the Liver becomes stagnated, we often develop symptoms of distension in the abdomen, painful cramps, fluctuating moods (PMS) and dark clots in the blood. Stagnation often plays a large part in the development of gynealogical conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS. I wanted to share this photo is a perfect example of stagnation – after 20 minutes of heat application, I was left with these weird red markings over my abdomen. The heat had certainly started to get my Blood and Qi moving and was helping to manage the pain but this stagnation was deeper than that. The heat was acting to mask the symptom once again but in reality, to address this problem with any sustainability, it must be considered from the root cause. Acupuncture is amazingly effective at smoothing this Liver energy and helping to reestablish a smooth flow of Qi and Blood and can help to relieve acute symptoms. But mostly, its power lies with helping to address the root of the problem – the stagnation of Liver Qi at a deeper level. A solid 4 week treatment of seeing patients 1-2 times per week followed by a less intensive maintenance programme yields excellent results with helping women manage their pain and re-establish a healthy  menstrual flow. Recent systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials have even found that both acupuncture (Cho 2010a) and acupressure (Cho 2010b) are effective for primary dysmenorrhoea, providing significantly more pain relief than pharmacological treatments.

The Science

How does acupuncture help period pains?

Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of painful periods (dysmenorrhoea) by:

  • regulating neuroendocrine activities and the related receptor expression of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovary axis (Liu 2009; Yang 2008)
  • increasing nitric oxide levels, which relaxes smooth muscle and hence may inhibit uterine contractions (Wang 2009)
  • increasing relaxation and reducing tension (Samuels 2008). Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels (Zhou 2008) and increasing endorphins (Han, 2004) and neuropeptide Y levels (Lee 2009), which can help to combat negative affective states
  • stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz, 1987; Zijlstra 2003; Cheng 2009);
  • reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Zijlstra 2003; Kavoussi 2007)

Find out more about how acupuncture can help with painful periods on the British Acupuncture council website.

About Kimberley

Kimberley, Acupuncturist and Clinic Director at Life + Lemons, is a registered TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) Acupuncturist, passionate about helping women reclaim their feminine edge. After graduating with a First Class Honors in York, she has undertaken specialist training in the area of pain management, natural conception, IVF support, menopause + pelvic pain (endometriosis/dysmenorrhea).


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