For most of us, period cramps are something we deal with via quick fixes, whether that's taking an over-the-counter pain medication or sticking on a heating pad before we're on the go again. But for people who experience severe period pain, that probably isn't going to do the trick. Enter acupuncture for menstrual pain. It may be hard to believe that a treatment that involves sticking medical needles into your skin would actually work to manage menstrual cramping and other period-related symptoms. But it could actually be a huge help.
“In the case of menstrual cramps, women simply may not be very well informed about the benefits of receiving acupuncture. In my experience, I find that women consider pain a normal consequence of having a cycle and go on suffering from pain,” Lida Ahmady, the founder and practitioner at De'Qi Health Acupuncture Clinic in New York City, tells Bustle.
“Acupuncture is a way to resolve menstrual pain and other reproductive health-related issues naturally, without the unwanted side effects that often come with other forms of treatment,” Merritt Jones, an acupuncturist and founder of Natural Harmony Reproductive Health and Jones Family Acupuncture, explains. “A good acupuncturist will help the patient get to the root of what is causing the pelvic pain to begin with, and then treat them in a way that supports deep and lasting healing, rather than just treating symptoms.”
So, how does acupuncture work to ease menstrual pain in the first place? “Acupuncture works for reproductive health in four ways," says Jones. "It promotes optimal blood flow to and through the reproductive organs, reduces chronic inflammation, improves hormone balance, and reduces stress.” According to Harvard Health, when a practitioner inserts needles into your skin during an acupuncture session, your brain releases endorphins — a naturally-produced chemical that plays a large role in relieving pain, stress, and depression. Additionally, in 2014, researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School discovered that acupuncture worked to stimulate the vagus nerve (the nerve that extends from the stem of your brain to your abdominals) and caused a rise in dopamine (a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure). In turn, this reduces inflammation, which a 2016 study found to be a main cause of period pain and cramping.
Kenslee, a 25-year-old newborn care specialist, tells Bustle that she saw an acupuncturist for a year to manage period pain after it was recommended to her. “After having my menstrual cycle for twelve years, and feeling like it was an enemy and not a beautiful time for my body, I was really up for trying anything,” she says. Kenslee found acupuncture worked wonders for her menstrual pain, and related physical and mental health symptoms. “My menstrual pain and fatigue decreased immensely, and it also helped with my hormonal acne. I began sleeping better, and my mood swings around my cycle became less severe,” she says. “I felt it also helped with my anxiety and depression, because I was blocking out that time to care for myself and reconnect with my body.”
The benefits of acupuncture for your reproductive health don't stop at managing menstrual-related pain and symptoms. “Acupuncture can treat a wide range of ailments and conditions successfully. Today, it has gained much popularity with treatment of fertility problems, as it is quite successful in helping women achieve healthy pregnancies and babies,” says Ahmady. In 2008, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Integrative Medicine compiled a meta-analysis of seven studies that assessed the efficacy of acupuncture for fertility issues, and found that using acupuncture as a conjunctive treatment to IVF greatly improved the participants odds of getting pregnant. However, a newer analysis from 2013 found that the difference in pregnancy rates between IVF patients who use acupuncture and those patients who do not was not significant.
Jones adds that, “Acupuncture, especially when combined with nutrition, herbal medicine and other integrative tools, can support most reproductive health issues,” including irregular menstrual cycles, or even more serious reproductive diseases like endometriosis. “From PMS, menstrual cramps, and regulating the menstrual cycle to more severe issues like endometriosis, PCOS, recurrent miscarriage and more, acupuncture can help restore balance in the body, thus promoting more optimal health,” she says.
It’s important to note that since acupuncture is considered a complementary medical treatment in the U.S. and not covered by majority of health insurance providers, it can get expensive. While acupuncture will not be for everyone, it may be time to give the traditional treatment a shot if heating pads and over-the-counter medications aren’t cutting it during your period. Though more research needs to be done to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture for reproductive health issues, it’s safe to say that the practice may very well be helpful to anyone looking for a way to manage period pain.