About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Go with the Flow: Acupuncture for Menstrual Cramps

If you are one of those women who are doubled over each month with menstrual cramps, here’s some good news:  acupuncture can help.  Think about it; acupuncture is really good for pain relief.   It makes sense that it would also be helpful for that day or two each month when cramps leave you on the couch with the heating pad or popping ibuprofen like there’s no tomorrow.

The underlying premise behind acupuncture is that it’s an energetic form of healing.  While that may leave you thinking about your old mood ring and Earth shoes, the reality is that every cell in your body produces energy.  Practitioners of Chinese acupuncture believe that this energy moves in pathways throughout your body.  In addition, that energy rises to the surface in various places, and where it does, the energy can be manipulated through acupuncture or acupressure to improve your health.  For you to be healthy, there must be enough energy, and it must be flowing freely. 

In Chinese medicine, blood is similar to energy in that it moves throughout your body.  In fact, blood needs the moving power of your energy to flow smoothly.  When your blood gets sluggish or stagnates, you may experience bruises, varicose veins, and menstrual cramps. 

For you to have a normal, uneventful period, two things must be in place:  there must be enough blood and it must move freely.  When either of these conditions is absent, you may experience a variety of symptoms, but more often than not, it will show up as some kind of discomfort during your period.

Most women who experience menstrual cramps do so because there is some kind of energetic impediment, or stagnation, which inhibits the free flow of blood during their period. Signs that your cramps are caused by stagnation include:

  • The pain is stabbing, fixed, or distending, i.e. it’s really bad!
  • The cramping is worse with pressure (you don’t want your lower abdomen to be touched)
  • The cramps occur before your period or during the first day or two of flow
  • The cramps are better after passing clots
  • The cramps are better with heat
  • They seem to be worse when you’re stressed, emotional, or upset

Sometimes menstrual cramps are caused by not enough blood or not enough energy to move the blood. While there is some element of stagnation in these cases too, the underlying problem is a deficiency—not enough blood to move freely. This is more frequent among older women, and one sign that this is the case is that the cramping occurs later on in your period as you become more depleted of blood.  Other signs of cramping from a deficiency include:

  • The pain is milder
  • The nature of the pain is dull and diffuse
  • The flow is lighter
  • You are tired, fatigued, wiped out during your period.  (Remember, not enough blood or energy to move the blood.)

Whether your cramps are the result of not enough blood (and energy) or blood not moving freely, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help you in a couple of ways.  First, your practitioner can use acupuncture to get things moving.  This doesn’t mean that you period will be heavier; just that it will move a little smoother without the torment of monthly pain.  This especially true if you suffer from the stagnation type of cramps.  Secondly, your acupuncturist can also work with you using such things as heat, Chinese herbs, food therapy, and some tweaks to your lifestyle to help things move a little better and to alleviate any deficiencies you may have. 

The bottom line is that you don’t have to suffer every month—get some acupuncture and go with the flow.

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