More than half of women who menstruate have some period pain for at least a couple days each month. This pain associated with menstruation is called dysmenorrhea. For some women, mild dysmenorrhea is a regular symptom of PMS, along with bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and fatigue. For others, menstrual pain is so severe it keeps them from doing normal activities for the duration of their period, and may be accompanied by symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
Period pain in Chinese medicine is often associated with the diagnosis of Liver Qi Stagnation with Liver Blood stasis. What does this mean? The Liver is in charge of building up the Blood (including menstrual blood), and also ‘coursing the qi’, which means keeping all the qi in the body moving along smoothly. When the period comes, if that Liver Qi can’t move smoothly the Blood becomes ‘stuck’ and this can cause pain, cramping and clotting before and during the period flow.
Painful periods don’t have to be normal. There is a lot that you can do to help your pain right now, and prevent it from coming in the future.
If you regularly experience period pain, here are some ways you can help ease your monthly blues:
- Get an acupuncture treatment to improve blood flow to the pelvic area, increase circulation, and alleviate pain. Generally we recommend getting acupuncture treatment twice a week the week before and during your period for one to two cycles. You should notice immediate improvement, and after a course of treatment your periods should continue to improve.
- Herbal medicine is very helpful. We often use formulas like Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, Tao Hong Si Wu Tang, or Wen Jing Tang which we then can modify to your specific needs. One or two months of being on an herbal formula and your period problems can be helped!
- Relax in a hot bath with aromatherapy oils, lavender is a great choice that works for many.
- Take a rest by lying down with a hot water bottle or putting a heating pad on your tummy. Most people crave the heat, it feels great and brings down period pain.
- If you want to go even further, try adding a castor oil pack to your abdomen before and during your period. It is simple and affordable, and very effective – if you need help learning how, just ask your acupuncturist.
- Get a back massage, or try a gentle stomach massage. Both Paige and Lori have worked extensively with period pain and are able to help bring relief to the discomfort, as well as decrease stress and bring relaxation into your body.
- Do some stretching or yoga to relax your muscles. Increase the frequency in the days leading up to your period.
- Meditate or use other relaxation techniques like deep breathing before and during the first few days of your period to calm your mind and body, bring down inflammation and relieve the pain.
Research has shown that period pain / dysmenorrhea can also be reduced by certain lifestyle modifications:
- Stop or cut down on smoking cigarettes (we all know this already, but it is a good reminder!)
- Reduce alcohol consumption before and during your period, alcohol can increase inflammation in the body, aggravating the pain
- Take daily vitamin E and Omega 3 supplements
- Decrease processed foods, get enough fiber, and drink lots of water to keep your digestion strong and bring down overall inflammation
- Cut down on sugar, increase ‘good’ fats (those from fish, avocado, seeds/nuts, olive oil) and include protein from whole foods to help stabilize moods
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet to avoid water retention, and replace your regular table salt with sea salt, which will have a larger mineral profile
Remember that it’s okay to take time out and rest more before and during your period, and go to bed a little earlier if you can. Make time to recharge, whether it’s a phone call with a friend, a walk in the fresh air, or a relaxing bath at the end of the day.
By Kathy Schoenberger, LAc, MSOM
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