Acupuncture For Period Pain

Acupuncture For Period Pain

28 July 2015 by Caitlin Armit

Acupuncture for Painful Periods (Dysmenorrhea)

Pain is associated with menstruation for most women at some point in their life. This pain is called ‘primary dysmenorrhea’ when it occurs shortly after a female’s first menstrual cycle or ‘secondary dysmenorrhea’ when it is associated with other conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome, high stress or anxiety.

Women commonly experience a cramping sensation at the uterus, dull ache which extends to the lower back and buttocks, heavy periods, nausea, occasional vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, or lower back pain. Regardless of primary or secondary dysmenorrhea, these symptoms can greatly interfere with daily activities and general mood for women and girls. Unfortunately most women have been led to believe that period pain is a normal and expected consequence of having a menstrual cycle.

Western Medicine Treatment

The most common treatments for primary dysmenorrhea are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs – over the counter painkillers), the oral contraceptive pill or an intrauterine device. Whilst these treatments may be effective, they often result in side effects such as nausea, ulcers, mood swings, headaches, diarrhoea, indigestion, and potentially infertility. Moreover, they don’t address the cause of the problem or reduce the likelihood of the pain returning. Other nutritional supplements such as Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium citrate, vitamin D, vitamin E or magnesium may also assist to reduce menstrual pain.

Chinese Medicine Perspective

In Chinese Medicine, pain is an indication of some form of stagnation in the body. We refer to this as stagnation of qi and blood. A good example of this is that many women notice that their period pain subsides once any clots in menstrual blood have passed – the clots being a physical example of blood stagnation. The primary organ energetics which relate to period pain involve the liver, spleen and kidneys. The liver is responsible for the free flow of qi and blood throughout all of the body and the liver channel transverses the inner thigh, genitals and breasts. This organ is also associated with emotions such as frustration, anger, irritability and mood swings which all indicate stagnation of qi.

Chinese Medicine Treatment

One of the best reasons to seek acupuncture treatment for period pain is that it addresses the underlying mechanisms which cause the pain, or stagnation of qi and blood, thereby reducing the severity of the pain and decreasing the likelihood of pain returning in subsequent cycles. Chinese Medicine diagnoses are based on patterns of symptoms allowing us to address concurrent symptoms as well as a patients main complaint.

The acupuncture points I select for period pain move qi throughout the body and directly improve blood flow in the uterus. These points increase our body’s endorphins and natural pain killing hormones. They stimulate the hypothalamus, corpus luteum and pituitary glands to regulate hormone production, particularly in cases where menstrual cycles are irregular (too short or too long). Some of the points commonly used are located low on the abdomen, in the hands and arms, and in the foot and leg. In some cases, treatment will involve the use of moxibustion or a heat lamp to stimulate blood flow and relieve pain.

During a consultation I will ask about your general health history, dietary and lifestyle factors and specific questions about your menstrual cycle. The more information you can provide me with the better I can work with you. I also take your pulse and look at your tongue as these diagnostic tools give a good overall picture of your health.

I frequently treat women for period pain as it is occurring (usually day 1 or 2 of bleeding) with weekly or fortnightly follow up treatments for 1-2 full cycles to prevent the pain from reoccurring. This really depends on the individual patient and a treatment plan will be discussed with you at your first consultation. In some cases, Chinese herbal formulas may be recommended to achieve the best results.

Does acupuncture really work for period pain?

The research on acupuncture for period pain has revealed mixed/unclear evidence. Though there have been many clinical trials, they are often of small sample sizes and some have poor methodological and reporting quality. Unfortunately this means that there is much more thorough research which needs to be done in order for acupuncture to be recognised as a valid treatment from a Western Medicine standpoint.

A Cochrane Review, Acupuncture for Period Pain, was published in 2016 and included 42 randomised controlled trials with a total of 4640 participants. This review included acupressure, not just acupuncture. The results indicated that acupuncture may be useful for period pain however the authors were critical of the quality of the studies due to factors such as small sample sizes, risk of bias and other methodological flaws. It states that the overall quality of evidence was low.


A 2015 study from the University of Western Sydney used a mixed methods approach with four sub-studies. One of these was a randomised controlled trial of 74 women with primary dysmenorrhea. There were four groups, each receiving different treatment: low frequency manual acupuncture, high frequency manual acupuncture, low frequency electro acupuncture or high frequency electro acupuncture. The low frequency groups received treatment once per week for 12 weeks and the high frequency groups received tri-weekly treatments in the week prior to menses. All groups received a treatment in the first 48 hours of treatment. Results of ratings for peak and average menstrual pain were measured at one, two, three and four months from trial entry. At four months post-trial entry, all groups showed statistically and clinically significant reductions in peak and average menstrual pain, however manual acupuncture showed a greater reduction in the worst menstrual pain scores compared to electro-acupuncture. Duration of pain decreased by over 40% in all groups and analgesic usage was significantly reduced in both the manual acupuncture groups compared with electro-acupuncture. Health related quality of life, as measured by the SF-36, increased in all groups at four months from trial entry.


If you experience recurrent period pain which interferes with your lifestyle come in and discuss how Fusion Acupuncture & Natural Therapies may reduce your pain and improve your overall health.


The effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea : a mixed methods study

Acupuncture for Period Pain

Categories: Brisbane Acupuncture Blog | Pain Relief Brisbane | Women's Health Brisbane

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