5 min read

Contributing writers: Alicia Yang, L.Ac., Charné Stroebner, L.Ac. 


     When it comes to periods in Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain should not be a given.  A healthy period is on time, flowing, has just the right amount of blood, and is pain-free.  Yes, it is totally possible.  Mood swings, suffering from headaches, cramps, backpain, breast tenderness, and low back pain may be common experiences, but all are signs of disharmony.  It is important to pay attention to these as signals from the body for help - rather than writing them off as just that time of month, as if it is something to power through or survive. 

     Period pain one of the most common signs of disharmony during menses.  In one study, published by the Journal of Pain Research, menstrual pain was reported by 84.1% of women, with 43.1% reporting that pain occurred during every period, and 41% reporting that pain occurred during some periods.  In Western Medicine, the pain from periods is blamed on hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which trigger contractions in the uterine muscle.  Fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis, and cervical stenosis are all causes of more severe pain.  Solutions in Western medicine are limited to NSAIDS, hormone therapy, and for severe cases - surgery, but not much is offered beyond that.  Traditional Chinese Medicine sees pain in the context of underlying patterns of disharmony that are affected by lifestyle habits, diet, stress, and environment.  It offers a detailed breakdown of different scenarios which can cause pain, along with effective lifestyle modifications, important self-care strategies, acupuncture and herbal medicine.  Here are a few scenarios that you should know of.


Stagnation and Blockage Cause Pain

     More often than not, when there is pain, there is the possibility of stasis - a stagnation of Blood or Qi.  Repressed emotions, anger, frustration, worry and guilt can all underpin emotional stress that leads to Liver Qi Stagnation.  The Liver is an organ system that is highly sensitive to our daily and accumulated stress.  Because the Liver is in charge of the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, and the Blood follows the Qi - when the Liver Qi is stagnated, Blood can also stagnate in the Uterus.  Breast tenderness, dull cramping and bloating usually go along with a Qi blockage, while sharp, stabbing or pulling pains, and clots signify more of a Blood stasis. This kind of pain usually improves after the passing of clots. If the blockage is long-standing and continues to build, a possible growths of cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis can ensue.  Stagnation can also cause the period to become irregular or stop altogether, affecting fertility over time. 

What to Do:

     To resolve this kind of pain, addressing emotional stress, releasing the burdens of self-judgment, worry and/or guilt, freeing up the flow and acceptance of emotions, healing past or unresolved traumas, and finding more time for stress-relieving activities and relaxed exercise that (moves the Liver Qi) can help.  Reducing foods that cause stagnation and inflammation is important - including gluten, sugar, and dairy.  Regular acupuncture, herbs, and steaming to help move the Qi and Blood - especially in the week before your period starts, can help reduce pain, free up blockages, and in more severe situations, reduce fibroids, prevent cysts, and resolve endometriosis.  Herbs like Corydalis, Rose, Safflower, and Hibiscus can help.  For more stubborn and chronic conditions of pain caused by stagnation of Qi and Blood - take our Chillax formula and Mahina Magic.


Acupressure and Moxibustion Point to Move Qi and Blood in the Lower Abdomen: Liver 3



Exhausted Qi and Blood Can Cause Pain

     While stasis of Qi and Blood can be caused by the Liver Qi not flowing smoothly, there can also be a situation of blockage caused by deficiency.  In this situation, there is just not enough Qi to push the Blood through the vessels properly, or there is just not enough Blood and therefore, not enough movement.  Pain can ensue, much like the former situations of stagnation caused by Liver Qi getting stuck, this time - caused by exhaustion and deficiency.  Deficiency is basically a state of not having enough resources for your daily activities. If you are running on low, everything can become compromised - from your focus and cognition, to your digestion, libido, and emotional wellness.  If you have gone through a chronic illness, or are depleted from stress, overwork, too much sexual activity, or difficult childbirth, this could apply to you. 

What To Do:

     Do not overwork yourself.  Pace yourself, strike a better balance between work and rest, prioritize your nutrition and nourishment.  Instead of pushing yourself so hard, give yourself a chance to relax and recuperate and get some regular self-care.  When it comes to exercise, be careful not to overdo it - if you feel too tired or exhausted after an exercise session, change it up. More gentle, easy exercise would be better for you. Be mindful of situations and people that drain you - and say yes to healthy boundaries.  Make room for people and activities that replenish you, like taking naps, meditation, walking on the beach, or just spending time with a non-judgmental friend just laughing or catching up. Do not be afraid or too prideful to ask for help - especially if you are overwhelmed.  Downsizing your to-do list and getting some acupuncture and herbal support will help replenish your Qi and Blood.  Make a ritual out of steaming and taking tonic herbs like Rehmannia, Dang Gui, Lotus Seeds, Goji Berries, and Chinese Red Dates to help boost your reserves.


Acupressure and Moxibustion Point to Nourish Qi and Blood: Stomach 36

Cold Can Cause Pain in Uterus

     In Chinese Medicine, cold from the environment, diet, and deficiency can invade the Uterus and cause pain.  The nature of cold is to contract - thus causing things to congeal and slow down - a situation again of stagnation.  The Uterus needs warmth in order to maintain good Qi and Blood flow.  Especially in the weeks during and after the period, the Uterus is more vulnerable to cold invasion. Putting too much cold in the body can also injure the Spleen and Kidneys, which can lead to other issues.  When it is long-term and happens repeatedly, invasion of Cold can cause Yang deficiency, with signs and symptoms of cold feet, cold hands, weak knees, and low back tension and soreness, and difficulties with fertility.

What to Do:

Pain that is caused by cold is usually cramping and is relieved by application of heat. Make sure you have enough warm clothes on to cover your feet, legs and torso.  Avoid being exposed to excessively cold air conditioning, swimming in cold water, eating cold and raw foods, drinking cold smoothies and cold beverages - especially in the week before, during, and after your period.  Drink hot water, hot teas, eat warm, cooked food, and apply heat to your lower abdomen to expel cold and promote Qi and Blood circulation.  Make regular use of moxibustion, heating pads, and/or hot water bottles.  Moxibustion is our favorite - the heat as well as the circulatory actions of the mugwort combine for even more powerful support.  Keep your uterus warm by steaming and taking warming herbs internally such as cinnamon, turmeric, clove, and cardamom. 


Acupressure and Moxibustion Point to Warm the Uterus: Ren 4

Note: If you or someone you love experiences pain from fibroids, endometriosis, and other more severe issues, contact us for more personalized support. 

Images taken from the Manual of Acupuncture by Kevin Baker, Mazin Al- Khafaji, and Peter Deadman