Primary dysmenorrhea is a medical condition that refers to painful menstrual cramps without any underlying disease or structural abnormalities in the reproductive system. It is the most common type of menstrual pain experienced by most women at some point in their lives. The pain typically starts a day or two before the menstrual period and lasts 2-3 days. The severity of the pain can vary, ranging from mild discomfort to intense, debilitating pain that interferes with daily activities. The exact cause of primary dysmenorrhea is not fully understood. Still, it is thought to be related to the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance that causes the uterus to contract during menstruation. Treatments for primary dysmenorrhea include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills or patches, which can help regulate hormone levels and reduce the severity of menstrual pain. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, stress management techniques, dietary modifications, and acupuncture with Chinese herbal medicine may help.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing, reduce pain, and improve overall health. Evidence suggests that acupuncture may help reduce the severity of primary dysmenorrhea symptoms, including menstrual pain and cramping.
Several studies have found that acupuncture may help reduce the intensity and duration of menstrual pain in some women. Western medicine does not fully understand the exact mechanism of how acupuncture works to alleviate menstrual pain. Western thought is related to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. However, this therapy of looking at the body differently using diagnostic theories from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) like Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang, amongst others, has successfully treated many disorders over the last few thousand years, including primary dysmenorrhea.
While acupuncture is generally considered safe, it’s essential to seek treatment from a licensed and experienced acupuncturist to reduce the risk of side effects or complications, as with any medical treatment discussing the potential benefits and risks of acupuncture for primary dysmenorrhea with your healthcare provider to determine if it’s the right choice for you.
These findings suggest that acupuncture may be an effective treatment option for primary dysmenorrhea. However, more research is needed to fully understand how acupuncture reduces menstrual pain and identify which acupuncture techniques and protocols work best for different individuals. Women experiencing severe menstrual pain should consult a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical conditions or complications.
Here are some recent research studies with references that have investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture for primary dysmenorrhea:
1. A meta-analysis of 27 randomized controlled trials involving 3,622 women found that acupuncture was significantly more effective than non-acupuncture interventions in reducing menstrual pain intensity and duration (Xu, 2021).
2. A randomized controlled trial of 60 women with primary dysmenorrhea found that acupuncture significantly reduced menstrual pain and improved overall quality of life compared to a control group that received sham acupuncture (Li, Wang, Zhang & Jiang, 2020).
3. A randomized controlled trial of 48 women with primary dysmenorrhea found that acupuncture was more effective than transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) in reducing menstrual pain intensity and duration (Zhang et al., 2019).
Li, Y., Wang, Y., Zhang, Z., & Jiang, Y. (2020). Effects of acupuncture on quality of life in patients with primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized controlled trial. Medical Science Monitor, 26, e921122-1.
Xu, Q., Bauer, B. A., & Vukovich, C. L. (2021). Acupuncture for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, 6627807.
Zhang, L., Li, H., Zhao, L., Tian, J., & Wu, T. (2019). Acupuncture for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 6171692.