Tues 2th July 2020 - Mike Armour
Period pain, or dysmenorrhea, affects over 90% of young women in Australia on a regular basis. While sometimes this pain reduces as people get older, many women find that their pain stays pretty constant.
Period pain can be either primary or secondary – primary dysmenorrhea is mostly due to an excess of hormones called prostaglandins while secondary is caused by physical changes in the pelvis such as endometriosis.
This blog is talking about primary dysmenorrhea, by far the most common cause of period pain. See the bottom of this blog for more resources about dysmenorrhea.
The most common symptom is a cramping, or sometimes stabbing, feeling below the belly button, which often starts about 24 hours before the period starts and is usually worse for the first couple of days of the period but can last for the whole period in some women. There are usually other symptoms that come along with the pain; bloating, back and leg pain, headaches, dizziness and fatigue are all quite common.
This can be incredibly debilitating and affects quality of life. Our desire and goal of clinical practice is to support you wherever we can. When it comes to holistic therapies such as acupuncture, our role is to diagnose and address the root problem as to why pain is there in the first place. If we can address the root cause, then the symptoms should ease.
While over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen (Nurofen) and mefenamic acid (Ponstan) work well for many women, most report that they still have pain despite using these. Thankfully there are some great adjuncts or alternatives you can try, which can help not only the pain but the other symptoms as well.
Here are our Top 4 strategies for combating period pain:
1. Acupuncture and Acupressure:
Try out this acupressure series (gentle pressure on certain acupuncture points) in this video.
Acupressure is fantastic because you can do it at home and treat yourself, but it’s not as effective as acupuncture itself. Acupuncture works best if you come in for treatment at least once a week for about three months, and often provides at least a 50% reduction in your period pain. It also allows most women to reduce the amount of pain medication (like panadol) they need to control their pain. If you want to come in and get some personalised acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment then you can book in with us here (link).
Exercise throughout the month, not necessarily *during* the period itself (unless you really want to!), can significantly reduce pain. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of exercise it is, or how intense. So you don’t need to go to Crossfit 5 times a week to get the benefit (again, unless you want to!). Gentle exercise such as yoga, done two or three times a week seems to be an effective choice for many women who suffer from period pain. Our friend Dr Kate Roberts from New Zealand has created this video for us showing a yoga sequence that can help with period pain and other menstrual symptoms
I think most women know about this already! But research on heat has actually been shown to significantly reduce period pain. The ideal temperature is around a sustained 39-40 degrees which can be a little tricky to manage with hot water bottles or wheat bags, as well as the fact it’s hard to move around. An effective alternative is stick on heat patches that you can buy at the chemist, though these can get a bit pricey if you need to use them regularly. In the clinic we use moxibustion (aka ‘moxa’) to achieve a similar result.
Traditional Chinese medicine (what we practice here at Acu-Fit) puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of diet and lifestyle choices as part of helping reduce your period pain symptoms. As part of your consultation and treatment plan with us we will give you some personalised advice that’s right for you and your lifestyle and situation. One thing you can try yourself is including some ginger (or extra ginger!) in your diet, as this can also help reduce period pain. This probably works best if you drink this regularly for at least one week prior to when your period is due to start, and keep drinking it for the first couple of days of your period. You can include ginger in your meals but an easy way to get extra ginger is to make a ginger tea infusion. A simple starter recipe for this:
Ginger tea concentrate
1 large piece of ginger about 5-6cm long (unpeeled is fine)
1⁄2 cup sugar/honey (optional but makes the tea more palatable) 1 tsp cardamom seed (or 3-4 bruised cardamom pods)
1. In a pot with a lid bring 4 cups of water to the boil
2. Grate ginger coarsely and add to boiling water
3. Stir in sugar/honey until dissolved
4. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes
5. Add cardamom pods/seeds and simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes.
6. Leave to cool and then strain into container and keep in the fridge.
7. When needed use 1⁄2 cup concentrate with 1/2-1 cup boiling water, to taste. Should be strong but not undrinkable!
Want to find out more?
We’ve written other articles on endometriosis you might find helpful (https://www.endometriosisaustralia.org/post/2019/10/09/what-role- can-complementary-medicine-play-in-managing-endometriosis) (https://academic.oup.com/hropen/article/2020/2/hoaa028/5849477) and if you have really painful periods and are wondering if you might have endometriosis you can read more about the symptoms here (https://theconversation.com/i-have-painful-periods-could- it-be-endometriosis-101026)