Menstrual pain (painful periods) usually is a benign condition related to the body’s reaction to the strength of contractions induced by prostaglandins. Called primary dysmenorrhea, it is especially common in teenagers. These pains include abdominal cramping or dull ache that moves to the lower back and legs, headache, and/or nausea
Less common causes of painful periods are:
- Endometriosis, inflammation of the lining of the uterus
- Blood and tissue being passing through a narrow cervix
- Uterine fibroid or ovarian cyst
- Infections of the uterus
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
Your First Step
Pain during menstruation usually is initially treated symptomatically with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). Because of possible unpleasant side effects of NSAIDs, other approaches such as nutritional adjustments, and supplements and herbs may be helpful but their effects are not predictable.
Should these prove ineffective, medical advice should be sought to rule out a more involved condition, as listed above.
Acupuncture Can Help
Because of acupuncture’s well-known effectiveness in treating pain, it has become a popular treatment for menstrual pain. Acupuncture helps the body to bring hormone levels into healthy balance, reduces anxiety, and improves blood flow, each of which may reduce menstrual pain.
Based on several studies, the National Institutes of Health has recommended acupuncture as a treatment for menstrual pain, either by itself or along with other treatments.
In one study of 43 women with painful periods, when they were treated with acupuncture their use of pain killers was reduced.
Acupressure, which understands the same healing philosophy as acupuncture, predates acupuncture by about 500 years. A study of 216 female students found that acupressure along with ibuprofen was an effective combination to reduce their menstrual pain.
A review of ten trials with 944 participants found the following:
- The six acupuncture groups experienced pain improvement compared to a placebo control.
- Nausea and back pain both were reduced in participants in two of the trial groups.
- Ability to return to normal activities (improved quality of life) was experienced in participants in another of the trial groups.
- The four acupressure trial groups experienced similar reduction of menstrual pain.
University of Maryland Medical Center
Liu CZ, Xie JP, Wang LP, et al. Immediate analgesia effect of single point acupuncture in primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized controlled trial.
Pain Med. 2011 Feb;12(2):300-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2010.01017.x. Epub 2010 Dec 17. Erratum in: Pain Med. 2011 Apr;12(4):685.
Habek D, Cortez Habek J, Bobic-Vukovic M, Vujic B. Efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of primary dysmenorrheal.
Gynakol Geburtshilfliche Rundsch. 2003 Oct;43(4):250-253.