It’s time to speak out about period pain
We hope you’ve found this page because you no longer accept period pain as a natural part of being a woman. You are looking to take control of your health.
There are still too many women who are trying to be ‘brave’ by silently, stoically suffering, every month.
Research has shown that period pain can feel as bad as a heart attack, so it’s high time we talk about it openly.
In this article we highlight the common causes and symptoms of period pain and what Western and Chinese medicine can offer you as treatment.
Most important of all, however, is that you to talk to specialists who are willing to listen and who can help you.
The AcuMedic Centre runs a specialist Women’s Health Clinic with doctors who have the experience of treating period pains by using Chinese herbs and acupuncture.
The period pain
Period pain affects the lower abdomen. It occurs in the form of muscle cramps in the tummy.
The cramps can be short, intermittent and severe. Or persist as dull ache for longer. But this can vary between periods.
Period pain can also spread to lower back and your thighs.
The pains can last for 48-72 hours or more. It’s arrival tends to coincide with the start of the bleeding. Although it can start several days earlier.
Related symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea
The abdominal pain of dysmenorrhea can come with other symptoms:
Symptoms of secondary dysmenorrhea
When the period pain is caused by an underlying secondary medical conditions, you may experience such symptoms as:
- Irregular periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Vaginal discharge (thick or with a strong odour)
- Pain during sex
+ Western medical view
Causes of period pain (primary dysmenorrhea) – anatomy and physiology
It is not clear why some women suffer from more period pain than others.
One theory proposes that women with more severe period pains have more prostaglandins. These hormones promote uterine contractions. The more of prostaglandins you have in your body, the stronger your contractions are going to be.
It is normal for the muscular wall of the womb to contract during periods. These contractions are too mild to be noticed for women.
This is a natural process. It’s a part of your monthly menstrual cycle designed to shed old lining in your womb.
But these contractions also compress the blood vessels that line your womb. This cuts off the blood and oxygen supply to the womb. When these contractions are too strong or prolonged, you start to feel pain.
It’s as if the contractions are triggering an alarm in your body (the pain). But they also trigger more prostaglandins. These hormones cause your womb to contract more, which increases the pain.
Causes of secondary dysmenorrhea – check if you don’t have one of these
Your period pains can be caused by an underlying medical condition such as:
- Endometriosis –In this condition the cells that line the womb are also found in the ovaries, fallopian tubes and in other places in the body. The period pain occurs when these cells shed and fall away.
- Fibroids – Benign tumours grow in the womb which makes the contractions painful. This causes pain during periods.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease – Inflammation in the womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes, caused by bacteria, makes the periods painful.
- Adenomyosis – The tissue that lines the womb starts to grow within its muscular wall which makes the periods painful.
- Intrauterine device (IUD) – This contraceptive can cause period pain, especially during the first few months after insertion. It is made of copper and plastic, designed to fit inside the womb.
Western medicine for period pain
There are painkillers designed to help you manage your period pain. Feminax are available to buy over the counter.
Iboprifen and aspirin are also available over the counter. But you are advised to discuss with your GP before taking any painkillers.
Paracetamol is also available without a prescription and has few side effects. However, research shows that it is not as effective at reducing pain as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as Feminax, standard iboprufen and aspirin.)
Stronger NSAIDs are also available, such as naproxen and mefenamic acid, but have to be prescribed by your GP.
If NSAIDs or paracetamol are not effective or unsuitable for you, talk to your GP. They may prescribe for you codeine. This is an opiate used as a painkiller.
NSAIDs are not suitable if you have asthma, stomach, kidney or liver problems. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding then you should not take them.
Aspirin should not be taken by anyone under the age of 16 years.
The combined oral contraception pill
If you are also looking for a contraceptive pill as well as a relief for the period pains, your GP may prescribe a drug that combines both.
The combined oral contraceptive pill can help alleviate period pain by thinning the lining of your womb. This can help reduce the amount of prostaglandin hormones your body produces.
A thinner lining of the womb can lead to a lighter period because the muscles do not have to contract as much when the lining is shed away.
The contraceptive implant
If you cannot take an oral contraceptive pill, implants and injections are also available.
The contraceptive implant is a tube about 40mm long that. It is flexible and is inserted under the skin of your upper arm.
Only a trained medical professional such as doctor should perform this procedure. As a contraception the tube lasts for three years.
Self-help at home
Self-help techniques are recommended which you can use to manage your pains at home. These include gentle exercises or applying heat in the form of a hot water bottle.
These techniques may not stop your period pain completely. But they often work at helping to reduce it.
- Heat – A heat pad or a hot water bottle can be applied to reduce pain. The water must be hot but not boiling. Boiling water will cause additional pain and can damage your skin.
- Warm bath or shower – taking a relaxing, warm bath or shower can help you to relax which in turn can ease the period pain.
- Physical exercise – Light swimming or cycling can help reduce your period pain. Physical exercise can help to alleviate the pain. You may not want to move at all, but even a gentle walk can help.
- Relaxation – Techniques that can help your body relax can also help you cope with period pain. Try yoga or pilates to get your mind off the pain.
- Massage – Gentle massage can help to reduce period pain. Try to apply circular movements around your lower abdomen.
- Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation – A TENS machine can be purchased from pharmacies. It sends electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves in your body and help to block period pain. The machine is used by applying sticky pads on your body which then transmit an electrical pulse.
+ Chinese medical view
Introduction to Chinese medical diagnosis and treatment of period pain
The first mention of period pain in Chinese medical literature was in 200 AD. A medical textbook described the infliction as “painful scanty menses with dragging pain in vagina”.
Chinese medicine has built up a vast body of gynaecological knowledge. It tackled period pain as a real physiological issue, rather than a non-negotiable part of being a woman.
Subsequently, over the course of thousands of years, Chinese medicine has recorded a variety of causes of period pain and secondary dysmenorrhea.
It has the language for understanding various female conditions.
Causes of period pain – Chinese medical view
Whatever the cause of period pain, the ‘Liver stagnation’ is a recurrent theme in diagnosis.
Typically, the circulation of blood or essential energy (Qi) within the Liver area is stagnating. This slows down the flow of blood within the uterus, causing a painful traffic jam in circulation.
Chinese medicine treats the resultant period pain with a personalised prescription of Chinese herbs and syndrome acupuncture.
The acupuncture and Chinese herbs combine to gently readjust the flow of blood in your body. Together they replenish the essential energy where Qi depletion is causing painful bottlenecks.
About your Liver
Chinese medicine views Liver not only as the detox filter but as an engine of blood circulation. Anything that affects your circulation affects your Liver, and vice versa.
Your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can influence your circulation. For example, joy can raise your blood pressure just like fear and sadness can lower it. And that’s where the link between your Liver and your emotions lies.
Bottling up your emotions or supressing your feelings can build up immense pressure inside your body. And the Liver bears most of that pressure.
This is the reason Chinese medicine has linked mental health with the Liver. It sees it as the primary area for natural treatment of depression.
It understands the repercussions of not talking about your period pain. No matter what caused it, it will come back with every cycle, probably with more severity.
Acupuncture treatment for period pain
Acupuncture has been proved – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea, according to the World Health Organisation*.
+ Lifestyle advice
When it comes to living a lifestyle that prevents period pains or at least helps you stop them as soon as they appear, there is one thing that often gets overlooked:
We cannot overemphasise the importance of speaking out about your period pain. Not just to your friends and family, but to your GP or any medical professional who is willing to listen and knows how to help you.
Your first step towards freedom from period pain is to talk about it. Ry talking to a Chinese medical doctor. They can advise on how you can prevent your period pains or at least reduce them. Indeed, talking is a crucial part of Chinese medical diagnosis.
Not talking about period pain is part of the problem. This is because bottling up the difficult emotions takes a toll on your body. This in turn aggravates the period pain. It is bad for your mental health. It depletes your energy reserves. It makes pain tolerance more difficult. It makes going through the day even harder.
Yet, if you speak out you will take a huge step towards freedom from period pain.
The true cause of the pain in your case may be physical, emotional, or both. You wouldn’t know the truth until you’d ask.
The more cigarettes you smoke the worse your period pain can become. A research study has shown that compared to non-smoking women, smokers are more likely to suffer from severe pains during menstruation.
If you need help to quit smoking, speak to our doctors about using acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help smoking cessation.
+ *CLINICAL TRIALS
Helms JM. Acupuncture for the management of primary dysmenorrhea. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1987, 69:51-56.
Shi XL et al. [Acupuncture at SP 6 in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1994, 14(5):241-242 [in Chinese].