We’ve all been there at some point: curled over, writhing in pain- barely able to take it. For me, it started in the 7th grade, where I’d be sent to the nurse (who was also a nun) in a dark tiny room with a small cot on which to deal with my discomfort (which is a light word). Eventually, cramps can get better, but for some people they are a signal for other bodily issues to be aware of. Here, we consult certified acupuncturist Lisa Metzger for an investigation into the topic of painful periods…
~Rebecca Conroy, Editor of A Child Grows in Brooklyn
Painful periods and female discomfort in the pelvic region can be difficult to discuss because it is a private pain. Many girls and women don’t seek help and then end up dealing with other complications from not addressing it. But how can you know to seek help for something that you are told is totally normal?
From the time girls get their first period it’s explained to them that cramps, bloating and headaches, along with a myriad of other fun symptoms, are all just part of the normal process. A hot water bottle on the lower belly and pain killers quickly become a monthly ritual. Severe menstrual symptoms have become common, expected and accepted and girls are suffering for it throughout their womanhood. But I do not accept this and neither should you. I have helped many girls and women alleviate these symptoms by helping to restore their reproductive and overall health.
If your period is painful or cramps are killing you, something is off!
During the natural process of menstruation prostaglandins stimulate your uterus to contract which helps push out the blood and lining. It is not unreasonable to expect that you will feel some sensations during this process. But if cramps are seriously cramping your style and interfering with normal daily activities it is best not to take the grin and bear it approach.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), when menstrual health is optimal and functioning properly, your period should be pain free with either no symptoms or only minimal symptoms right before and during it. The blood should be clot free, bright red in color and be of sufficient flow and volume. If this is not how you consistently experience your period or your periods are irregular start taking steps to restore balance.
It’s important to remember that a symptom is your body reacting and giving you a message. Pain is a signal! A large number of people having the same symptoms (such as many women experiencing killer cramps) doesn’t necessarily make it normal but rather indicates imbalance at a large scale. If you are having symptoms before and during your period your body is trying to tell you something. Listen to the wisdom of your body! If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms relating to your cycle, I would recommend an evaluation to determine if a more severe condition is underlying such as ENDOMETRIOSIS. Pain killers don’t address the imbalance but rather treat the symptom and turn off the signal.
- Moderate to Severe Cramping
- Abdominal, Pelvic or Lower Back Pain
- Pain When Moving Bowels or Urinating
- Spotting Between Periods and Excess Blood During Period
- Extreme Fatigue
- Pain During Sex
- Irregular Periods in Timing, Blood Flow/Clots or Color
When channels become blocked, menstrual symptoms occur.
In TCM, the organs themselves and relationships between the uterus, liver, kidneys and the spleen all play a role in menstruation. Their pathways run through the pelvic region and when these channels become blocked or deficient in some way, pain and menstrual symptoms occur. Chinese Medicine has a very different way of viewing energy and the body. Some factors that contribute to the blockages and deficiencies are:
- Traumatic Injury/Surgery/IUD
- Accumulation of Cold or Dampness through Diet and External Influences
- Emotions Such as Anger, Fear and Anxiety
First and foremost, identifying the TCM pattern that is effecting your body and causing the symptoms is key. Many times, women have overlapping patterns. A few examples of TCM patterns are:
- Stagnation of Qi or Stasis of Blood
- Qi Blood Deficiency
- Damp Cold or Damp Heat
- Deficiency of Kidney, Liver or Spleen
If you have a deficient pattern vs. a stagnant pattern, how TCM moves forward with recommendations will be different. Your physical health and symptoms are evaluated but your diet, lifestyle and environment play an enormous role. Acupuncture and herbs are used to direct, move and nourish qi in the associated organs and in the pelvic region. Food in Chinese Medicine is classified by its energetic effects and flavor classification which can also influence your body response. What you eat, when you eat and how you eat are significant. Check out our videos to learn more about DAMPNESS and NUTRITION.
Natural Ways to Address Period Pain
There are a few things you can start doing to help alleviate painful period symptoms. Consulting your healthcare provider is always a good idea to make sure more serious conditions are addressed and before taking any herbs, supplements or medications.
- Avoid Damp Property Foods & Beverages – There is often a damp component to painful periods and consuming foods that also have this property make it worse. This means cut the cheese, milk, butter, deli meat, fried foods and fatty meat and alcohol/caffeine.
- Avoid Strenuous Exercise During Your Period – Living a gentle life during menstruation is critical. We recommend limiting yourself to general walking to get yourself to and from where you need to be or light exercise like yoga (not hot yoga). Strong work activity and exercise will push blood to your muscles but we want the blood flow to be to the uterus and all energy and blood flowing down.
- Drink Room Temperature Beverages – Water is your best option to keep yourself hydrated. But cold drinks, including cold water, can increase or even cause painful periods. There may be an herbal tea that will benefit you but remember that food and herbs have properties that may exacerbate your symptoms. Your acupuncturist will make the appropriate herbal recommendations.
- Avoid Sex During Your Period – Sex is an energetic act. For women energy flows in and up and we want energy flowing down and out.
- Eat Steamed Veggies- Raw fruits and veggies are harder for your body to digest and transform, putting extra strain on your spleen energy which in turn can cause menstrual issues. Excess cold in the body can also contribute to blood stasis in the uterus. Stick with dark green vegetables that have been lightly cooked or steamed.
- Try Traditional Chinese Medicine – If you are finding yourself dreading your period each month, you’re experiencing pain or severe symptoms with your menstrual cycle or over-the-counter pain killers are just not cutting it, I encourage you to approach your body from a different perspective. Masking symptoms does not resolve the root problem. Combining acupuncture, herbs, nutrition and lifestyle/environmental changes are a viable and natural way to help you manage pain and bring back balance to your reproductive system.
Lisa Metzger, Lac, Dipl. Ac is nationally board certified and the Co-Founder of Garden Acupuncture in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Garden Acupuncture practitioners have over 50+ years of combined clinical experience and specialize in Women’s Health, Fertility, Pediatrics and Pain Conditions. To learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine and Garden Acupuncture check out their website GardenAcu.com.