A new review of 25 studiesÃ¢â‚¬”and more than 3,000 womenÃ¢â‚¬”published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine has found that acupoint stimulation provides short-term relief of excessive menstrual pain, also known as dysmenorrhea. (Is your period normal? Find out here.)
How It Works Acupoint therapy, which has its roots in ancient Chinese medicine, posits that qi, or life force, flows through the bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meridians, or channels, and is intrinsically tied to health. Several hundred acupuncture points are believed to be located along these meridians, and can be manipulated through acupoint stimulation to help qi flow correctly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If qi is stuck, or not moving, you can experience pain anywhere. Women can then easily have pain during their period,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, a naturopathic physician, licensed acupuncturist, and author of the bestselling Natural Choices for Women's Health: How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness.
Acupuncture's use for certain conditions has been endorsed by the United States National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In the case of relieving menstrual discomfort, acupoint stimulation increases blood flow to the uterus, which can relax the muscles similarly to a hot pad and reduce uterine contractions (aka cramps), says Lisa M. Bartoli, D.O., Fellow of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical CenterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Continuum Center for Health and Healing. It also increases endorphin release to minimize pain and improve PMS symptoms including irritability and mood swings, she says.
Perhaps, most importantly, acupoint therapy balances out the brainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hormone-regulator, the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, according to Bartoli. By regulating hormones, much like oral contraceptives, it can relieve symptoms ranging from pain to mood. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s using the bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own energy to naturally play with hormones and rebalance the system,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Bartoli, who often helps athletes kick their cramps on game day. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m always amazed how quickly acupuncture works,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
The most common acupoint treatment in the U.S. is acupuncture, in which fine needles are inserted into acupuncture points and left there for 20-30 minutes while the patient lies still. How deep the needles are inserted varies from just beyond the superficial layers of the skin to 1-3 inches, depending on which qi channels are being treated. When performed by a skilled and trained acupuncturist, treatment is relatively painless, says Steelsmith.
If regular acupuncture doesn't relieve your pain, the acupuncturist can take things to the next level with electroacupuncture, in which he or she also runs electrical currents through the acupuncture needles. However, the acupuncturist will only do so if the qi will not resume its flow without stronger stimulation, according to Steelsmith. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We meet the energy of the condition with the energy of treatment,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
Skeptical? We were too. So I booked an acupuncture appointment during my time of the month. And while staying still was difficult for this multitasker (it hurts when you move a muscle that has a pin stuck in it!), I did leave feeling likeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ myself. No cramps, no backache, no moodswings.
The Needle-Free Way to Try Acupoint Therapy But you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to make your peace with needles to reap the PMS-busting benefits, says Steelsmith. Acupressure, in which you press onto different points along your bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meridians, can also help to get your qi flowing.
Here, two tried-and-true at-home acupressure exercises to relieve your worst PMS symptoms, such as cramps, breast pain, nausea, and diarrhea:
photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock More from WH:
The Benefits of Being Premenstrual
Acupressure for Stress
Natural PMS Cures
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