Deciphering Period Pain from An Eastern Perspective
BY AMY CHEN
If you experience colic, sharp stabbing or dull pains, we’re here to tell you it’s not normal.
14 SEP - 2021
Acupuncturist Amy Chen shares how we can alleviate our monthly pains from hell.
Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, often occurs before, during or even after menstruation, located in the lower abdomen. It's normal to experience a slight dullness and distension in the lower abdomen, but not if you’re experiencing any of the colic, sharp stabbing pain or dull pain. It can be primary or secondary. Primary menstrual pain refers to the natural constitution of the person, when the shredding of the endometrium (uterine lining) stimulates excess prostaglandin, causing extreme contraction of muscle and blood vessels in the uterus and therefore causing cramp-like colic pain in the lower abdomen. Secondary menstrual pain refers to pathological disorders in the pelvic cavity such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine myoma, etc.
Frequently, I see a lot of women in the clinic with the symptoms of dysmenorrhea, accompanied with other premenstrual symptoms. If you get it, you’ll know that on a bad day, you can be lying in bed for the entire day. Women who often get period pains think that its normal and it just comes with the period naturally, and tend to rely on paracetamol, a cup of hot cocoa or ginger tea and brown sugar drinks to ease the pain by promoting circulation in the uterus and stimulate the brain to release endorphins to help you forget or to ease the pain. However, it’s not the ultimate solution. Eastern medicine explains the reasons for excessive period pain, what different pain means, and what you can do at home while you can’t see your local eastern medicine practitioner/ acupuncturist.
When do I need to see an Eastern medicine practitioner/acupuncturist to treat period pain?
'- Pain (can be either colic/sharp or stabbing pain/ dull pain) before or during your period, sometimes even referring to the genital area, anus, or inner thigh
- Severe pain-inducing nausea, headache, dizziness, cold sweat and cold hands and feet
- Bearing down sensation, lower backache, frequent urination or diarrhoea during your period
- Lower abdominal pain gradually becomes relieved after the period is finished or when the blood clots are expelled.
- Period pains are aggravated by anxiety, irritation, staying up late, being overworked and having too much ice-cold food such as salads, fruits, ice-blocks and ice creams.
What are the root causes of period pains?
There is a general principle in eastern medicine that goes “if there is no free flow, there is pain.” This means that if there is stagnation of chi (energy) and blood flow in the meridian channels, there will be pain. Imagine all the chi and blood becoming stagnantly stuck in a certain area over time; it’s bound to cause pain and diseases as the metabolism will become poor. All the waste that should be eliminated becomes accumulated inside the body.
Usually, period pains can be caused by a few factors including improper diet, lifestyle, imbalance of emotions, overwork and sexual intemperance leading to the causes below.
Improper diet: Prolonged period of excessively eating ice-cream, ice-blocks, raw or cold food/fruits, or ice-cold drinks, especially during menstruation.
Improper lifestyle: Being in contact with cold/damp environments or showering with cold water, being wet in the rain or swimming during menstruation. Strong emotions of depression or anger and frequent stress, lead to suppression and an impeded flow of chi, which in turn, becomes stagnant and therefore affects the blood flow. This results in blood stasis which manifests as painful menstruation.
Constitutional weaknesses: if you’re recovering from a severe or major illness, the chi and blood may both be depleted. Having multiple child births can worsen the loss of blood during menstruation. Excessive sex also depletes the essence.
Improper Diet: Irregular meals, nutritional imbalance and not eating enough for the spleen and stomach to absorb nutritional essences is the beginning of a toxic cycle. If you don’t have enough food to transform and transport it into chi and blood, your body will be unable to fill the two important meridian pathways for reproduction.
There is a general principle in eastern medicine that goes “if there is no free flow, there is pain.”
Self-care Tips to Relieve Period Pain
'- Say no to icy, cold natured foods, especially one week before your period starts! This includes watermelon, pears, grapefruit, coconut, orange, persimmon, kiwifruits, dragonfruit, banana, salmon, crabs, oyster, tofu, radish, cucumber and spinach. Instead, cook with ginger, onion or garlic to neutralize the cold nature of the food if you’re going to have any of the vegetables listed above.
- Stay away from cold water and keep your environment warm and dry. If the climate is cold and wet, be sure to dress appropriately!
- Keeping a good genital or personal hygiene is important for prevention of any inflammatory diseases.
- Prevent yourself from over-working, carrying heavy objects during your periods that would exhaust your chi and be sure to go to bed early.
cupressure, in simple words, is to apply pressure and massage on the acupoints. By doing this daily, multiple times a day or whenever you are watching Netflix, it has an accumulative effect for the overall well-being for health, emotional balance and relaxation. You can use your thumb or index finger to press down on the acupoints with a deep and firm pressure for at least 3 minutes on each point. You will feel an ache or pain of some sort and its normal, it should be a comfortable and acceptable pain. If your hands get tired, you may slowly lift the pressure, shake and stretch your hands then reapply pressure or find someone else to do it for you! Here are some acupoints listed for relieving period pains:
LV 3 Tai Chong, CV 6 Qi Hai, SP 10 Xue Hai, ST 36 Zu San Li, BL 20 Pi Shu, SP 6 San Yin Jiao, KD 3 Tai Xi, BL 18 Gan Shu, BL 23 Shen Shu
The full term for moxa is known as moxibustion, which is a dried plant called mugwort or Artemisia, used to warm and stimulate acupuncture points. They come rolled up in short sticks like tobacco. Moxa has its own medicinal properties of activating blood flow, but if you don’t have access to it, simply place a wheat bag over these areas: CV 8 Shen Que, CV 4 Guan Yuan.
Foot Soaks promote chi and blood circulation as the three main meridian pathways for reproduction and menses begin from our feet. We have readily available LOMOJI ‘Monthly Comfort’ foot & bath soaks available in the clinic and online. With genuine therapeutic properties, they are also used in herbal prescriptions to help warm up the meridian and relieve pain.
Herbal Tea or Herbal Medicine
There are general teas you may have that commonly contains herbs that have the function of warming up the meridians and uterus, tonifying the chi and regulating the blood to relieve the pain. However, this is still not the ultimate treatment for uprooting the cause of period pain. You should seek advice and obtain herbal medicine prescriptions to take while you are not able to get acupuncture treatments.
Do some slow and moderate exercises to help you relax, ease your mind and unwind your stress. I find yoga very helpful.
It is also helpful and useful if you learn to become more aware of your own symptoms, and take notice of your period characteristics such as colour, quantity, clots, location of pain, factors of pain aggravation and relief, etc.
How frequently should I get treatment for period pains?
If you get period pains every period, you should seek treatment from one week before the period starts for 7 days as one course of treatment. Common period pains can be treated after 2-3 courses of treatment, however stubborn and chronic period pains can take longer, and take up to about 7 courses of treatment.
If you have any questions or are interested in seeking treatment advice, I've linked my website below.