Dysmenorrhea means painful periods. In western medicine the term is reserved for more severe menstrual cramps that disrupt normal functioning. In TCM any uterine pain experienced before, during, or after the period signifies an imbalance warranting treatment. The ideal in TCM is that we are able to navigate the cycles and changes in life gracefully. Menstrual pain can also be part of a larger PMS condition.
- pain in the lower abdomen or umbilical region associated with menstruation
- pain radiating to the thighs and/or low back
Western Medical Treatment
Some pain and discomfort around periods is considered normal. Cases are commonly treated with NSAIDs (like aspirin and ibuprofin/Motrin) and with Oral Contraceptives.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Treatment
One course of treatment for any menstrual disorder is 3 months, simpler cases will clear up with one course while more severe cases may require a few courses of treatment. Endometriosis, for example, can take a long time to treat. Treatment consists of weekly acupuncture and daily herbs. Menstrual pain can be a symptom of a few different imbalances in the body. Here are the most common causes:
Liver Qi Stagnation: pain a few days before/first few days of period, bloating, breast distention, dark menstrual blood with no clots, and irritability. Often stress-related, this pattern is quicker to resolve but managing stress is key for longterm relief.
Blood Stagnation: intense, stabbing pain before and during the period, dark menstrual blood with clots, and mental restlessness. This pattern generally takes 1-3 courses to resolve.
Cold in the Uterus: lower abdominal pain before or after period, lighter bright red menstruation with some clotting, feeling cold, sore back, pain relieved with heat. This pattern generally takes 1-3 courses to resolve.
Qi and Blood Deficiency: dull pain towards the end or after period, dragging sensation in abdomen, pain relieved with pressure and massage, scanty bleeding, fatigue, pale complexion, and slight dizziness. Deficient cases tend to be slower to resolve, often requiring 2-3 courses to resolve.
TCM advises women to rest during their periods because the body is more vulnerable. Women should avoid exposure to cold and damp environments as well as sweets and excessive junk food during their periods. Excess physical work and exercise should be avoided. Stress is often a great contributing factor to menstrual pain.