Acupuncture and Period Pains

Acupuncture and Period Pains

Dysmenorrhoea is painful cramps originating in the uterus just prior to or during menstruation. It can be primary (i.e. without any organic pathology) or secondary (i.e. associated with a pathological condition, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts). The pain usually lasts between 8 and 72 hours.

Adolescent girls are more likely than older women to have primary dysmenorrhoea because the condition can get better with age. Secondary dysmenorrhoea tends to be less common in adolescents, as the onset of causative conditions may not have occurred yet. Estimates suggest that around 25-50% of adult women and about 75% of adolescents experience pain with menstruation, and some 5-20% report severe pain that prevents them from carrying on with their usual activities. The longer the duration of menstruation the more severe the dysmenorrhoea. Also, younger age that periods start and cigarette smoking have been associated with dysmenorrhoea.

Conventional treatment is aimed at relieving pain and includes NSAIDs, the oral contraceptive pill, depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate, levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device, danazol and leuprolide acetate.

How acupuncture can help Recent systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials found that both acupuncture and acupressure are effective for primary dysmenorrhoea, providing significantly more pain relief than pharmacological treatments. The most compelling evidence comes from a large, high-quality German trial that also found acupuncture to be cost-effective (Witt 2008). 

Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of dysmenorrhoea by – – regulating neuroendocrine activities and the related receptor expression of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovary axis (Liu 2009; Yang 2008) – increasing nitric oxide levels, which relaxes smooth muscle and hence may inhibit uterine contractions (Wang 2009) – increasing relaxation and reducing tension (Samuels 2008).

Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels  (Zhou 2008) and increasing endorphins (Han, 2004) and neuropeptide Y levels (Lee 2009), which can help to combat negative affective states stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz, 1987; Zijlstra 2003; Cheng 2009);reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors(Zijlstra 2003; Kavoussi 2007)


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