UGH.. painful periods.
Ladies, this is the worst, am I right? It turns out, dysmenorrhea (painful periods) affect around 85% of women out there. That is a staggering number. Theoretically, our cycles should not be painful at all, if you can believe that! The menses should come once a month and it should be a smooth process, without PMS or other complications. In the olden days, there were far LESS instances of pain with periods due to a number of reasons. However, in this modern time, we are constantly surrounded by things in our environment that disrupt our endocrine systems (aka. our hormones). I’ll get into what might be contributing to painful periods and what diagnoses we see mostly in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Painful periods occur in the body because of one thing: stagnant blood and qi (energy) in the uterus. That means that there isn’t a smooth flow of either- things are stuck or blocked. But how does that happen exactly? We aren’t born with that pattern. Its formed over the course of our lives, based on what we expose ourselves to and how we treat our bodies.
The most common cause of period pain, according to TCM is called “liver qi stagnation.” It has nothing to do with your actual liver, but the Chinese energetics that is associated with that organ system. There are several things that allow for the liver qi to stagnate leading to pain with the cycle. If you are drinking too much alcohol, eating too many fried foods, are sedentary, or are constantly stressed or emotionally haggard, that can lead to “liver qi stagnation.” Our lifestyle dramatically affects the way we menstruate. Other symptoms of liver qi stagnation include breast tenderness/swelling premenstrually, mood swings (majorly in the way of irritability), anxiety, depression, and cramping that can start before the actual flow.
If this sounds like you, the best way to ease some of those painful periods are to get some exercise in! The week before your period is a great time to get acupuncture and cupping in order to get that stuck energy moving before your period starts. We have a great formula called “The Free and Easy Wanderer” that helps alleviate some of that horrible PMS and help aid in a healthier, less painful period.
Another cause for dysmenorrhea can be described as “cold stagnation in the uterus.” This is the typical qi and blood stagnation that we see with painful periods, but adds in an element of cold. This is typically felt as sharp, stabbing pain that is better with warmth. Cycles can also be heavier and clotted. If you have been exposed to the cold for some lengths of time, walk on cold floors with bare feet, eat raw/cold foods often, you might have an element of cold as a part of your pattern. Try using a heating pad once a day for the few days leading up to your period. You can also incorporate cooked foods into the diet and drink ginger tea daily to add an element of heat to your system as well.
Other environmental factors, like chemicals used in our homes or body products, can be linked to hormone dysregulation. They are discovering that phthalates, parabens, and fragrances used in lotions and makeup can mimic estrogen; therefore, disrupting our menstrual cycles. The same goes for chemicals in cleaning products or burning soy-based candles. The best bet is to switch to safer products! If you’re curious about what the toxicity level is of anything you use, the best bet is to go to EWG.org and look them up under the “Skin Deep” portion of their website.
If you or a loved one has painful periods, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have an arsenal of modalities and herbs that can be beneficial for this particular condition. Let us know if you’re struggling! We can help.