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Acupuncture Treats Premenstrual Syndrome and Menstrual Pain

Updated on August 14, 2012

Premenstrual Syndrome vs. Dysmenorrhea

Treatments for the monthly discomforts a woman experiences during her menstrual cycle often get lumped together. But in order to effectively treat problems related to the menstrual cycle, a distinction must be made between premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea.

Premenstrual Syndrome, or “PMS,” is a range of symptoms that occur before the onset of the menstrual period, though some women may experience PMS up to two weeks prior to their cycles. PMS may be more common in women in their late 20's to early 40’s with a history of depression. Symptoms may also increase as a women transitions to menopause.

In reality, any woman with a menstrual cycle can experience PMS and there isn't always a definite cause.

Common symptoms include abdominal cramping or pain, breast tenderness, constipation or diarrhea, gas and bloating, and emotional irritability with anxiety and mood swings. Aching, cramping, and pain in the lower back and legs can also cause discomfort. Women may experience headaches, dizziness, and loss of balance. Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and mental fogginess may occur.

Dysmenorrhea refers to the symptoms that occur a few days before or at the onset of menstruation. Symptoms are similar to PMS, however pain may be concentrated more in the pelvic region. Periods may be heavy, and clotting and fatigue may be experienced due to blood loss. Primary dysmenorrhea is diagnosed when there is no known cause, though there is a correlation with who began their menstrual cycles at an earlier age. Secondary dysmenorrhea is a result of an underlying condition, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Treatment Options

Many drug companies market products to women and promise to deliver relief from problems relating to menstruation. Women may take NSAIDS, birth control pills, or even narcotic pain-killers if the symptoms are severe.

Natural alternatives exist, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, lifestyle changes, massage therapy, yoga and other forms of exercise. These methods may be used alone or in combination with medication. However, a benefit of most natural methods is that you usually do not have the side effects that may result due to medication.

Why Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is great for pain relief in general because it releases endorphins into the body and increases circulation and nerve conduction. However, when a woman is experiencing PMS or dysmenorrhea, she is more likely to have increased sensitivity with needle insertion. Though needles are usually fine and treatments are not painful, there are certain times of a woman's monthly cycle when acupuncture may cause discomfort.

So why would you have acupuncture when you are already have a heightened sensitivity to pain?

Because it works. And once the needles are in place, any uncomfortable sensations should resolve.

Figure 1: Menstrual Cycle According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Day of Cycle
TCM Treatment
1 - 7
Nourish Blood
8 - 14
Fluids need replenished. Body prepares for ovulation
Nourish Yin
15 - 21
Yin moves to Yang (ovulation) and fertility is heightened.
Boost Yang
Body prepares for menstruation. Time when a woman may experience PMS.
Course Liver Qi

How does Acupuncture treat PMS and Dysmenorrhea?

Acupuncture treats both PMS and dysmenorrhea by focusing on different stages of the menstrual cycle. While every woman's cycle is different, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is broken up into 28 days (see Figure 1). This is why it is so important to distinguish between PMS and dysmenorrhea. Successful treatment depends not only on your symptoms and constitution; it also depends on where you are in your cycle. If you are losing blood due to menstruation and you are given a moving treatment for PMS, you could end up feeling exhausted and need another session to recover your energy.

Fortunately, most acupuncturists are trained to understand a woman's monthly cycle. Again, ask for credentials and how many hours they obtained. 200 hours just doesn't cut it when you are working with hormones.

Treating PMS and dysmenorrhea with acupuncture can significantly alleviate negative symptoms. Though you can't walk around with needles all day and other treatments may be incorporated, receiving regular acupuncture treatments for menstrual difficulties will help to regulate hormones and manage monthly symptoms.


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