Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. For some, menstruation is quick and easy, but for many others, it can be difficult and painful or so irregular they never know if or when to expect it. As women, we shouldn’t settle for this. After all, acupuncture can help make sure THAT time of the month isn’t the worst time of the month by balancing the body and the menses.
Dysmenorrhea, also known as painful menstruation, is the most commonly reported gynecological problem in women who are menstruating, affecting more than half of women worldwide. Dysmenorrhea is a subgroup of pelvic pain that can manifest as painful menstrual flow.
The cause of dysmenorrhea is not specifically known by conventional medicine, but it has been determined that women suffering from this pain have increased levels of the hormones prostaglandin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. These three hormones stimulate pain fibers in the uterus, leading to increased overall pain and abnormal uterine contractions that can last for several hours or days. For those suffering from severe dysmenorrhea, it can mean they are incapacitated for up to three days or more every month – yikes!
While treatment of dysmenorrhea usually involves some sort of medication and rest, there are alternatives (which have fewer side effects) including two traditional Chinese medicine techniques: acupuncture and moxibustion.
Most women experience menstrual irregularity (metrorrhagia or oligomenorrhoea) or absence (amenorrhea) at some point in their lives and if it occurs a few times it most likely isn’t a cause for concern. However, if a woman’s period is abnormal consistently, it could be a sign of, or lead to, health issues as well as make it difficult to ovulate and conceive.
So, what causes irregular periods? Irregular or infrequent periods could be a sign of an underlying condition such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), fibroids, or endometriosis, or be caused by hormone imbalances or stress. When a woman’s cycle is too infrequent it will not only prevent ovulation but may even lead to anemia.
Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Painful Menstruation
A study conducted by Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its systematic review showed moxibustion treatments are effective at relieving pain both when used during menstruation and as a preventative treatment. So, what is moxibustion and how does it work?
Moxibustion is a technique that involves the burning of mugwort, known as moxa, which is an herb that facilitates healing. The purpose of moxibustion is to stimulate the flow of blood and energy throughout the body. Moxibustion creates a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deeply into the skin. To perform moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a stick of moxa and holds it close to the acupuncture point for several minutes until the area turns red. There are also adhesive cones of moxa that can be applied to the skin. These are then lit and allowed to burn until the fire reaches the base, which is when they are removed to prevent burns or scars.
Moxibustion is used to help people with cold or stagnant conditions since burning moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the body, which creates a smooth flow of energy and blood. Moxibustion can be used to treat dysmenorrhea because it stimulates the flow and release of the hormones that cause uterine contractions. By stimulating the release of these hormones, the body can then expel them which leads to decreased pain. Moxibustion is also great for women who suffer from fibroids, which are caused by stagnation and the buildup of blood in the uterus. The warmth from the burning mugwort increases blood flow and can even help decrease the size of the fibroids over time.
Moxibustion and acupuncture can be used either as standalone treatments or in combination with each other to increase healing. Certain acupuncture points help tackle painful periods by regulating blood flow, balancing hormones and/or relaxing the nervous system, thus reducing muscle contracts and relieving pain. In fact, studies show acupuncture is just as effective as over-the-counter pain relievers.
Acupuncture for Irregular Menstruation
In addition to treating painful menstrual cycles, acupuncture can also help regulate your cycle. Most women have their menstrual cycles every 25-28 days, however, many things can affect this including underlying issues such as health conditions or stress. Thankfully, acupuncture has been proven to help regulate cycles in a variety of circumstances. The main way acupuncture accomplishes this is through balancing the hormones associated with menses. For example, acupuncture balances estrogen, testosterone, FSH, and AMH levels. When hormones are balanced, the feedback loop between the brain and the ovaries known as the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis begins to regulate. When the HPO axis is working correctly, ovulation and menstruation occur.
Acupuncture also helps combat irregular periods by improving blood circulation, regulating the flow of energy in the body, reducing anxiety and stress as well as regulating the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems.