Acupuncture, Period Pain, and PMS
Every month, many people who menstruate expect painful cramping, breakouts, headaches, and other symptoms before or during their periods. It’s common to reach for heating pads or over-the-counter painkillers to get through. But are there other ways to manage symptoms, or even prevent them in the first place?
We asked Liya Sandberg, a licensed acupuncture in Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Bloomington Clinic, if acupuncture helps with period pain and PMS (premenstrual syndrome). It turns out that she helps patients with period problems and infertility all the time in her practice. She shared what that treatment could look like, and how you can find relief on your own at home.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Acupuncture is a whole-person medicine, and your acupuncturist will want to find the root of your problem. “A lot of times when there is cramping that seems more so than usual, it’s because there’s some sort of imbalance within their body,” explained Sandberg. “In general, there’s always some underlying thing that’s going on in our bodies that’s causing these symptoms to manifest.”
What is that underlying problem when it comes to PMS? “Everyone is so different, so we ask all of these questions to figure out which organ system we need to be focusing in on,” answered Sandberg.
“Some of the major organ systems that are involved with any kind of menstrual reproductive issues are the liver, the kidney, and the spleen.” Sandberg said. (Note: Chinese Medicine organs do not perfectly correlate to the biomedical organs.) “As far as East Asian medicine goes, their job is to help with menstrual blood and reproductive organs to make sure they’re functioning properly.”
When addressing the root of period pain and PMS through acupuncture, consistency is important. “Every treatment will build on the previous one. The closer you keep them together, especially when you’re first beginning to have these symptoms, the quicker you’ll start seeing results,” Sandberg said.
Treating the Symptoms: Can Acupuncture Help When You’re Already in Pain?
If you’re already experiencing pain or discomfort from your period, is it too late to seek acupuncture treatment? The answer may surprise you.
Research shows that acupuncture provides effective treatment for PMS symptoms, regardless of when in your cycle you go in for an appointment. The effect is just different. Immediate acupuncture can have a strong effect on improving symptoms. Early acupuncture is good at treating the root cause of the pain, keeping it from coming back.
What can you expect from an appointment when you’re experiencing cramping or pain? “We do local points right on the abdomen which help increase blood flow to the area,” Sandberg said. “Having the needles in place triggers our brain to release all those natural painkillers, like endorphins, which help minimize the pain.”
Is there anything you can do for relief at home?
Are you unable to schedule a visit but still need some additional assistance? Sandberg shared some tips for easing your pain and symptoms at home.
Her first suggestion is to use acupressure on two points: Large Intestine 4 and Liver 3.
Large Intestine 4 is located on the back of your hand between your pointer finger and the base of your thumb, where you’ll feel a tender depression. “It really helps to move all that stagnation when you’re having menstrual problems,” explained Sandberg. It is also commonly used to ease migraines and other pain syndromes.
Liver 3 is between your big toe and second toe, in the deepest depression you feel. “It’s energetically really important to balance out particular organs that are involved with menstrual blood, any kind of cramping or PMS-type symptoms,” shared Sandberg.
To use acupressure on yourself, press and hold one point for 3-5 seconds, release the pressure, then do the other side. Your pressure shouldn’t be so strong that it’s painful, but you should feel a sensation.
In addition to acupressure, Sandberg recommends doing anything you can to calm your mind. “Finding things to minimize stress can be really helpful,” Sandberg said. “Deep breathing, medication, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and making sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep.”
Sandberg and other providers in the Bloomington Clinic use acupuncture to help with all kinds of gynecological disorders such as menstrual pain, menstrual irregularities, PMS, infertility, hot flashes, and night sweats.