Being a woman is often a blessing - the ability to give birth to and nourish new life, to mother and nurture the next generation. However, riding a rollercoaster of hormonal changes each month can sometimes make life hard, and in reality, all too many women have to cope with unpleasant symptoms on a monthly basis.
Problems such as PMS, painful periods and heavy bleeding are often seen as a normal part of your monthly cycle and something to be endured. But according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), this should not be the case. In fact, any menstrual irregularity can be seen as a sign of a deeper imbalance and should be treated rather than ignored.
In order to understand how acupuncture can help with women’s health, we first need to look at how the menstrual cycle is viewed in TCM.
The Menstrual Cycle in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to TCM, when a girl reaches puberty, she will receive what is known as tian gui, or “heavenly water”. This indicates that she is ready to start menstruating, a process which relies on two channels called the Conception Vessel and the Thoroughfare Vessel. These channels are seen as deep reservoirs, and each month they fill up with qi and blood in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, this qi and blood is directed to the womb where it will nourish the fetus, but if not, it will overflow, triggering menstruation.
This process repeats month after month, and has four distinct phases. The first phase is the blood phase and starts on the first day of menstrual bleeding. During this phase, old blood and tissue is removed from the womb, making way for the next cycle to begin.
The second phase is the yin phase. Yin represents nourishment, and during this phase, the endometrium (the lining of the womb) begins to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. This phase lasts up until ovulation, when yin turns into yang, causing an egg to be released.
Yang represents movement, and during the yang phase, the egg is released from its follicle and beings to travel down the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized. At this point, your body temperature rises slightly, indicating that ovulation has occurred.
The fourth and final phase is the qi phase. During this phase, your body gathers all of its energy, ready to expel the blood and tissue built up during the yin phase. Once this happens, you will start bleeding again, bringing you back to the beginning of a new cycle.
If you are healthy, this process should happen smoothly, regularly and without pain or other symptoms. However, when something goes wrong, there are many different issues that can occur:
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
PMS is a common problem for many women and can have a variety of symptoms ranging from breast tenderness to irritability. In TCM terms, PMS is caused by an obstruction to the free flow of qi during the qi phase of the cycle.
Painful periods can happen due to a deficiency or stagnation of qi and/or blood within the womb. This makes it more difficult to push out old endometrial tissue during the blood phase, and can result in cramping, pain and clotting. Pain associated with qi stagnation tends to be more dull or aching in nature, whereas pain associated with blood stasis is often more severe. These conditions are also often accompanied by late or irregular periods.
Irregular periods can also stem from qi or blood stagnation. According to TCM, another reason for irregular periods is an inability to convert yin into yang (ovulate). This means that your periods will frequently be late, or may be completely absent for months at a time.
Endometriosis is a condition characterized by painful, heavy periods. In western medical terms, it is caused by pieces of endometrium growing outside the womb. In TCM terms, this is classified as a form of blood stasis. This can occur due to excess heat or cold in the lower abdomen, or due to an insufficiency of blood making it more difficult to circulate.
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in or around the womb. From a TCM viewpoint, this is another sign of blood stasis. It could also be due to dampness or phlegm which are seen as a potential cause of any tumors or lumps in TCM.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex condition, and from a TCM perspective it can have many different causes. Imbalances in the Kidneys, Liver or Spleen can all lead to PCOS. It is often a result of qi stagnation or an excess of dampness within the body.
Low libido affects many women from time to time and can be a result of stress, tiredness or hormonal changes. According to TCM, low libido is most likely down to a deficiency in the yang aspect of your Kidney energy.
Menopause is a fact of life as a woman. It is a common misconception that symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings are part and parcel of this; they needn’t be. In TCM, a woman starts her periods when she receives her “heavenly water” at puberty. By the time she reaches middle age, this heavenly water dries up, and her periods will stop.
The reason why so many women suffer from symptoms at this time of life is due to an imbalance in the yin and yang of the Kidneys. Fluid is yin, so when the heavenly water dries up, yin can become depleted. This leaves a relative excess of yang which, uncontrolled, can flare up and cause hot flashes, sweating and irritability.
By nourishing the yin of the Kidneys, acupuncture could reduce these symptoms and help you to move through your menopause with ease.
Acupuncture for Women’s Health
Acupuncture for women’s health is not a one-size-fits-all business. During your first consultation, your acupuncturist will ask about your individual symptoms, medical history diet and lifestyle. This will allow them to identify and treat your condition from its root cause. The way that TCM works means that two women with the same western medical diagnosis (e.g. endometriosis) may be treated very differently, whereas two women with different diagnoses may be treated in a similar way. It all depends on where your underlying imbalance lies.
Acupuncture can help to build qi and blood, and aid circulation to prevent stagnation. It can also harmonize any organs which have become imbalanced, including the Kidneys, Liver and Spleen.
In scientific terms, acupuncture can help women’s health in a number of different ways, including:
What to Expect from Your Treatment at City Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a gentle therapy, and its effects increase gradually over time. Although acupuncture might not offer instant relief like taking a pill, it does offer a safe and natural solution for certain conditions which cannot be effectively treated by conventional medicine, including many women’s issues.
At your first consultation, your acupuncturist will ask you in detail about your past and present symptoms in order to make a diagnosis. If you are coming for acupuncture for women’s health issues, you may need to answer some personal questions about your monthly cycle or sex life. However, you can rest assured that all of our acupuncturists will treat your information professionally and confidentially, so there is no need to feel embarrassed. The more information you can give, the more effectively your provider will be able to make a diagnosis and offer you the correct treatment.
Your acupuncturist may choose points on your abdomen, back, head, arms or legs during your treatment. The needles will stay in for around 30 minutes, during which time you can simply relax and enjoy your session. Your provider will be on hand to ensure that you stay comfortable and have everything you need throughout your treatment.
Here at City Acupuncture, we have clinical experience from over 10 years and 100,000 sessions of acupuncture. We have found that in order for acupuncture to reach its full, cumulative effect, most people require between 8 and 12 sessions to manage the symptoms of women’s health issues. However, all women are different and your acupuncturist may recommend additional sessions depending on your own, unique diagnosis.