Friday, September 15, 2006

Cramps

Menstrual cramps are a fact of life for the women who are unfortunate enough to be afflicted. Or so you might think. Western medicine has little to offer beyond Midol, a prescription strength version or the gynecological panacea, birth control pills. The good news is that Chinese medicine is useful in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, PMS and many other problems associated with menstruation.

Patients seldom seek me out for the treatment of cramps. Probably because it’s culturally accepted that this is normal. It’s not life threatening, permanently debilitating and it is self-terminating. However, in Chinese medicine, it’s not normal.

So, if no one comes to me for cramps how do I know anything about them? Because women seek treatment for other problems; headache, fibroids, adhesions, endometriosis, depression, fatigue, fibromyalgia – and when I ask about their past medical history, menstrual problems are often presented or ongoing. For those patients with current difficulty, acupuncture treatment often helps the menstrual difficulty as well as the chief complaint.

I had a young woman come see me for migraine headaches. I didn’t inquire about her period, so I was unaware of any menstrual problems. About half way through our treatment course, the headaches had responded but weren’t gone. She did, however, mention that she was no longer suffering from cramping or fatigue during her period.

So what’s the correlation? In Chinese medicine, PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps are typically a result of Liver qi stagnation (there are other types but this is most common). Energy is tied up or blocked in the lower abdomen yielding the symptoms. Headaches, fibroids, adhesions, endometriosis and ovarian cysts are also diagnosed as a type of qi stagnation or evolving from qi stagnation.

Like an infection, left untreated, qi stagnation can worsen, expand to other areas or bring about other pathology. Some women do improve without treatment. Lifestyle changes, dietary changes, normal development or pregnancy can resolve menstrual cramps.

In my opinion menstrual problems and PMS symptoms can be an indicator of future gynecological difficulty. Since a hysterectomy and/or hormone replacement is often the solution for middle-aged women with gynecological issues, it may be wise not to ignore menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is a viable therapy in this situation. You might be investing in your future health and you may be able to resolve some pain in your life now.

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