Get Rid of Period Cramps Once and For All
By Sara Calabro
For many women, period cramps are the irrefutable bane of their existence.
At least one day per month, they find themselves laid up, coping with pain that ranges anywhere from mildly inconvenient to borderline unbearable. They have accepted this unfortunate pattern as unavoidable, their penance for opting against birth-control pills.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Women really can have their cake and eat it too: Acupuncture gets rid of menstrual cramps once and for all, no Pill required.
The Pill Is the Answer to Everything—Except When It’s Not
Oral contraceptives are extremely popular among women who are not necessarily in it for the birth control. They are mainstream medicine’s answer to not only painful periods—known as dysmenorrhea in medical speak—but pretty much any issue having to do with the menstrual cycle.
Got cramps? Let’s get you started on the Pill! Heavy bleeding? Try the Pill! Bleeding in between periods? The Pill will do the trick! Not getting your period? Let me introduce you to the Pill!
Many women have great success with the Pill and have no desire to go off it. Rock on. However, many women don’t want to be on the Pill.
Some just don’t like the idea of taking drugs. Others have turned to the Pill reluctantly, to avoid having to sit out their lives once a month. They want to go off but are scared it will mean the return of intense cramps. For others, the Pill’s not fully cutting it and they need something to take off the remaining edge.
Acupuncture can help.
An Acupuncture Approach to Eliminating Period Cramps
From an acupuncture perspective, period cramps are not “just part of being a woman.” They are a sign of an underlying imbalance.
Unlike the Pill, which alleviates cramps by artificially shutting down the systems that produce them, acupuncture goes after the underlying imbalance that’s causing these systems to malfunction.
This is necessary in order to truly eliminate menstrual cramps. Anything else is merely a masking of symptoms—take away the Pill and the cramps come back. Acupuncture works by dismantling the source of the problem.
Join the Liver Qi Stagnation Club
Period cramps can arise from a number of different imbalances but the one most commonly seen in modern-day acupuncture clinics is Liver Qi Stagnation.
In acupuncture, Liver is the system that’s responsible for smooth flow throughout the body. As such, it’s the system most directly affected by things that cause us to be less go-with-the-flow and more tense—emotional stress, rigid posture, not breathing deeply enough, jaw clenching. So yeah, basically all of the things that most of us deal with on a daily basis.
When things aren’t flowing smoothly, we start to experience what acupuncturists think of as stagnation-type symptoms. These include pain, and specifically pain that feels like pressure, distension or restriction. The physical symptoms often mimic the emotional symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation—frustration, irritability, feeling easily annoyed or held back. It’s as if things want to move but something is keeping them constrained.
This is Liver Qi Stagnation and a ton of us have it.
The reason Liver Qi Stagnation is so often linked to period cramps is because the Liver is closely associated with Blood. (Blood in acupuncture is not really the same as the blood we think about in biomedicine, but that’s an article for another time. For now, just know that Liver equals Blood.)
When women with Liver Qi Stagnation are menstruating—Blood’s involved—the imbalance rears its head. Period cramps kick in, sometimes along with breast swelling and tenderness, and irritability.
To dismantle Liver Qi Stagnation, acupuncturists select points along the Liver meridian. In women whose Liver Qi Stagnation is manifesting as menstrual cramps, points for Blood regulation are used as well. In addition, points known to alleviate stagnation—what acupuncturists think of as “moving” points—may be used to restore overall flow throughout the body.
Those are some general rules of thumb for treating Liver Qi Stagnation, but as is always true in acupuncture, every treatment will vary based on each woman’s unique combination of symptoms and constitutional factors. Many of us may fall into the Liver Qi Stagnation bucket, but we all give it own spin.
Acupuncture works with the subtle nuances that mainstream medicine is ill equipped to tackle.
Six-Pack Abs Are Not Doing You Any Favors
Another lesser-known, but highly effective, acupuncture approach to eliminating dysmenorrhea is trigger-point release.
Trigger points are sensitive nodules in the skeletal musculature that cause referred pain. They form and get exacerbated by muscle overuse, emotional stress and tension, and poor posture. When there are trigger points in the abdominal muscles, in addition to pain they can produce visceral symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, heartburn—and period cramps.
This cause of dysmenorrhea often goes unnoticed because we don’t traditionally think of period cramps as a muscular issue.
However, in a society where 1) we generally tend to overdo it, and 2) the media touts flat stomachs—particularly in women—as the key to all that is good in the world, over exercising the abs is not uncommon. Maintaining strong core muscles is important, but indulging in too many sit ups can lead to excessive rigidity and trigger points in the abdominal muscles.
Even women who forgo the gym can suffer from rigid, trigger-point laden abdominal muscles. Sitting at a desk all day, especially when it’s in a stressful office environment, puts constant strain on the core muscles, causing them to tense and harden.
Trigger points that cause dysmenorrhea are usually found in the rectus abdominis muscles but can also occur in the linea alba, external oblique, iliopsoas, and quadratus lumborum. Acupuncture helps loosen these muscles, allowing them to return to their normal resting state.
Whether they’re due to stuck Liver Qi or overly tight ab muscles, period cramps can be eliminated once and for all with acupuncture.