Treating Menstrual Cramps with Chinese Herbs

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Although in our clinic we see a variety of health issues, and for most I prescribe herbal formulas, one of the most common issues we treat is painful periods, also known as dysmenorrhea. Some of our patients go year after year dealing with this pain, finding that the birth control pills that their doctors put them on are not effective or they have to try several different brands in order to reduce the pain.

Then on top of the pain they are experiencing, because they have been on these pills for so long their ability to conceive and produce eggs has been suppressed for so many years it has become difficult to conceive. So now they are dealing with painful periods, and having a difficult time conceiving as well.

And as an acupuncturist who has seen a range of pain from mild to so severe the women cannot stand or even work, I like to combine acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help ease the pain and free the flow of blood. In Chinese medicine painful periods can be diagnosed into multiple categories or combinations of, but here is a list of the three most common that I see:

Blood deficiency – the pain from blood deficiency is a dull pain that can be worse towards the end of the period or when period is finished. The woman may have fatigue, look pale and have no energy. For this type of dysmenorrhea I would use Ba Zhen Tang (Eight Treasure Tea).

Qi stagnation – the pain from qi stagnation can be intense or a dull achy pain and can often go together with PMS. For this type of pain I may use Xiao Yao San (Rambling Powder), which typically I would prescribe for a week before the period and during the period.

Blood stagnation – the pain from blood stagnation is a sharp stabbing pain and may also include dark menstrual blood with clots. Blood stagnation may also be categorized in women with fibroids or endometriosis. For this I would prescribe Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (Four Substance Tea with Safflower and Peach) during the initial part of the period.

Maintaining a relationship with your OB/GYN is an important part of health care and can work really well in combination with acupuncture and massage and herbal medicine. Please report any sudden onset of pain, or a type of pain that you have not experienced before to your doctor right away.

Some helpful tips to control or deal with your pain:

Exercise regularly. According to Western Medicine exercise increases endorphins which are your body’s natural pain killer. In Chinese medicine exercise can help to increase the flow of blood perfusion to an area where the blood is stuck and not moving.

A few regular acupuncture and moxibustion treatments also helps to move the free flow of blood and qi in your pelvic region.

Fish oil, or Omega 3 fatty acids.

Magnesium – it helps relieve tensed muscles.

Small clockwise circles for self-massage over your belly button can be very helpful.

A hot pack and warm bath can also work wonders.