What is Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea)?
Menstrual cramps are common among women within the reproductive age bracket. The cramps occur when the uterus which is essentially a muscle, contracts and relaxes before or during menstrual cycle, causing pain. Medically, painful cramps are termed as Dysmenorrhea. Due to strong contractions of the uterus, the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus is cut off when it presses against the nearby blood vessels. This thus leads to pain as part of the muscle loses its oxygen supply briefly.
The intensity of pain varies from one woman to another. A significant proportion of women may experience severe cramps during their periods. Severe menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) may be as a result of serious diseases, birth control methods that are invasive or even infections.
Headache may also occur for women during a menstrual cycle and menstrual disorder such as menstrual cramps. This is related to changes in the levels of female hormones. The headache can either be one-sided or two-sided and comes in various durations. Associated symptoms include loss in appetite, vomiting, paleness and general weakness.
Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea)
- Pressure in the abdomen
- Ache and pain in the abdomen (can be severe pain at times)
- Feel of pain in inner thighs, lower back, hips
- Stomach upset accompanied with occasional vomitting
- Loose stools
What are the causes of Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea)?
Severe menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) can be caused by infections such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. These infections lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that attacks the reproductive organs of a woman leading to very painful periods. The menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) resulting from PID are usually accompanied by pain on passing urine, low back pain and low abdominal pain that goes beyond the menstrual days. Women with PID experiences abnormal uterine bleeding with menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) being severe towards the end of their menses.
Primary dysmenorrheal accounts for the menstrual cramps experienced when a young woman starts menstruation. At the onset of the menstruation, the uterine lining releases some chemicals known as prostaglandins. The levels of the prostaglandins released in the beginning are usually at high level but they decrease as the individual advances in age or give birth to their first baby. In this case, the menstrual cramps are likely to be severe in the beginning and the pain decreases with time.
Severe menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) can be caused by the presence of uterine fibroid tumors. Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow on the walls of the uterus that are common when a woman reaches the age of 40 and above. Along with painful periods the woman experiences heavy bleeding, enlargement of the lower abdomen, lower back pain, fullness of the pelvic region, passing urine frequently and painful sex.
Endometriosis is the presence of tissues that resembles those of the uterus in other areas leading to severe menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea). These tissues can be located in the pelvic walls, fallopian tubes, in the rectal- vaginal septum and ovaries. This condition is characterized by pain around the pelvic region during the menses and other phases in the menstrual cycle.
Relieving Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea) through Traditional Chinese Therapy
Traditional Chinese therapy can be used as a natural and effective treatment of painful menstrual cramps without use of drugs that may contain chemicals with adverse reactions. Essentially, moxibustion promotes blood circulation for relief of menstrual cramps due to strong contractions of the uterus, resulting in reduction of oxygen supply by pressing against nearby blood vessels.
Moxibustion therapy is an ancient Traditional Chinese Therapy which uses heat to stimulate the various meridian points in the body for treating ailment. Effective for those experiencing severe menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea), regulating menstruation and those with irregular periods, moxibustion is used to stimulate the energy in different parts of the uterus leading to relaxation of the muscles. The duration of the therapy is dependent on the severity of the condition.
Moxibustion is the burning of mugwort (traditional chinese herb “Artemisia Vulgaris”) over the acupuncture points for stimulation of energy (“qi”) and blood. Highly regarded for relieve of menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea), the moxa stick containing mugwort is positioned over the abdominal area. More often than not, the menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) will disappear immediately.
During burning of moxa, its unique vapours from traditional Chinese herbs will enter the body through the skin and acupuncture points. This opens up the body’s energy pathways (meridians). The therapy thereby regulates blood and flow of qi (the life energy of the body) and expels the body’s cold and dampness. It also increases warmth to the uterus and promotes circulation specifically to the pelvic area. Heat from the smouldering moxa is also able to relieve stagnation or coldness in the blood, thus improving the flow of qi throughout the body for relieve of menstrual cramps (Dysmenorrhea) and common ailment such as arthritis.
When applied correctly, moxibustion is a very safe procedure. Besides the ability to relieve menstrual cramps, regulate menstruation and irregular periods, it can also relief acute and chronic pain such as lower back pain, shoulder pain, digestive problems, rheumatoid arthritis, impotence and decreased libido.
For application of moxibustion, the use of acupuncture point SP6 (Sanyinjiao) is advocated. Indications for the use of acupoint SP6 in Traditional Chinese Medicine are menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), abdominal pain and distention, irregular periods, and insomnia. TCM theory indicates that acupoint SP6 benefits the spleen and kidneys, transforms dampness and spreads the liver qi.
Pressure point SP6 (Sanyinjiao) for menstrual cramps