Painful periods affect most women at some point during their lives. They are caused by contractions of the walls of the uterus as it works to shed its lining each month. For some women, painful periods can be a mild inconvenience, but for others, they can be severe and debilitating.
Most people accept period pain as a fact of life, but it doesn't have to be that way. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees painful periods as a sign of a deeper, underlying imbalance within the body. It also offers a safe and natural way to restore a healthy, pain-free cycle using herbs and acupuncture.
Painful Periods in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to TCM, painful periods can happen for a number of different reasons. These can be identified by slight differences in symptoms, and treated accordingly.
Qi is one of the most important substances in TCM. It is responsible for movement, warmth and protection. In order to be healthy, we must have qi which is both plentiful and able to flow around the body freely. If it becomes deficient or stuck, this is when illness occurs.
Stagnant qi is qi which has become stuck in one area, unable to flow freely. This can accumulate over time causing symptoms such as bloating and pain. One of the most common causes of qi stagnation is emotional stress. Because stress is so prevalent in our modern society, qi stagnation is one of the most common problems we see in the TCM clinic today.
If you have period pain due to qi stagnation, you will likely experience the following symptoms:
- Pain which is dull or aching in nature
- Breast tenderness
- Irritability, anger or depression
The best ways to avoid qi stagnation are to try and stay relaxed and avoid stress as much as possible. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises can help with this. It is also important to stay active to encourage qi to flow more freely. Women who suffer from qi stagnation type period pain often find that some gentle exercise helps.
Blood stasis is a condition in which blood is unable to circulate freely. It can happen as a result of long-term qi stagnation (qi is also responsible for moving blood), or physical trauma such as an injury or surgery.
It can also be caused by excessive cold in the uterus, which leads the blood to become thick and clotted. Excess cold can be caused by too many cold or raw foods in the diet, or not wearing warm enough clothes in cold weather.
If you suffer from period pain that is caused by blood stagnation, you may experience:
- Pain which is severe or stabbing in nature
- Late or absent periods
- Dark menstrual blood with clots
You can avoid blood stasis by keeping active to promote good circulation and keeping warm. Eat a diet which consists mainly of warm or cooked foods and warm drinks. Wrap up warm if you go outside in cold weather, paying special attention to your kidney area and abdomen. If you have period pain due to cold and blood stasis, try using a heat pack on your lower abdomen or back to relieve pain.
It is also a good idea to refrain from sexual intercourse during your period and avoid using tampons. These can both prevent the free, outward flow of blood and lead to further stagnation.
Sometimes painful periods can be due to an insufficiency of blood. This is most often due to a diet which is lacking in nutrition or an imbalance of the digestive organs. When there is not enough blood to flow freely, your body will struggle to push out what it can, leading to pain.
If your period pain is due to blood deficiency, you will probably experience:
- Pain which is dull in nature
- Late, light or absent periods
- Pale skin
The best way to avoid blood deficiency is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Some of the best foods for building blood are:
- Red meat, especially organ meats
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
- Beans and pulses
Treating Painful Periods with Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM aims to treat diseases by correcting any imbalances within the body to restore a state of harmony. When you go for your first session, your practitioner will identify these imbalances by taking a detailed look at your individual symptoms and medical history.
They will then formulate a unique treatment plan to suit your individual needs. Herbal medicine can be used to nourish qi and blood, building them back up to healthy levels. Acupuncture is used to promote the free flow of qi and blood and to relieve pain. If excessive cold is part of the problem, then the main treatment principle is to warm the uterus. This can be done using acupuncture with a heat lamp or by burning a warming herb called moxa in the painful area.
You will also be given personalized diet and lifestyle advice to address any underlying imbalances, help you take control of your own treatment and say goodbye to painful periods for good.