Period Pain (dysmenorrhea)

What is Period Pain (dysmenorrhea)?

Cramping and period pain is caused by an overproduction of prostoglandins in the muscle wall of the uterus. Prostaglandins increase when hormones are out of balance -- in particular when estrogen levels are too high and progesterone levels are too low. In Chinese medicine diagnosis, PMS falls primarily into the category of liver stagnation (ie, where the liver qi, "energy," is blocked).  Symptoms associated with the liver include nausea, headaches, muscle stiffness, bloating, moody behaviour, irritability, and depression.



How Chinese Medicine can Help

While Western treatment for PMS  and painful periods is symptomatic and may include the birth control pill as well as anti-inflammatory medication and pain killers, in Chinese medicine, we work to not only provide relief for your distressing symptoms but to address the underlying condition that is causing them.

After your practitioner has done a thorough evaluation of your condition, he or she will create an individualized treatment program based on your pattern diagnosis. Your treatment program will include a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary, and lifestyle modifications designed to rebalance your body and regulate your cycle. Typically treatment for PMS and painful periods requires at least three menstrual cycles.

Acupuncture is the traditional Chinese method of using extra thin needles placed at strategic energy points around the body to improve functioning and promote natural healing. Acupuncture is frequently used to help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce stress and improve blood flow to the pelvic area and uterine lining.

Herbal therapy is an essential treatment modality in Chinese medicine, and provides an important compliment to acupuncture. While acupuncture stimulates the flow of energy and blood, herbal formulas are designed to nourish and replenish deficiencies in the metabolic, endocrine and immune systems.
Chinese herbal formulas are individually compounded for your particular underlying pattern or deficiency. The formulas, which may contain a number of different herbs, generally include both herbs to increase general health and to deal with your specific ailment. Studies have shown that herbal formulas may:

  • Regulate menstrual cycles
  • Alleviate endometriosis
  • Thicken an unresponsive endometrium
  • Restore normal menstruation in patients with amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea

Chinese herbal formulas, which must be prescribed by your practitioner, lack the adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs, since the variety of herbs used balance each other out and minimize negative sides.


Maintaining your optimum weight by eating a plant-based diet, watching portion size, and exercising daily is crucial for hormonal balance. Strive for a body mass index (BMI) of 20-25 and a waist circumference (WC) of less than 35” for women and less than 40” for men. Estrogen is stored in fat tissues. If you are overweight, just losing 10 or 15 lbs can have a big effect on your hormones.

Our Acublance Diet incorporates 2,000 years of Chinese medicine food therapy, current nutritional research. Both current research and ancient Chinese practice show that healthy eating for hormonal balance is based on a natural, whole foods, plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet that keeps insulin at a steady level.

In particular, Chinese dietary therapy recommends adding these food to alleviate menstrual symptoms: bitter salad greens, globe artichoke, asparagus, buckwheat, cabbage, carrots, celery, dandelion, fennel, garlic, onion, leek, lemon, millet, oily fish, olives, parsley, parsnips, rice, sesame and sunflower seeds, walnuts and watercress.


Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to balance your hormones and alleviate premenstrual symptoms.

Exercise burns calories and helps regulate your insulin levels, reversing some of the metabolic imbalances that contribute to weight gain and menstrual problems. During the second half of your menstrual cycle (luteal phase), your endorphin levels drop. Regular exercise boosts your body’s production of endorphins and dopamine and inhibits the release of GABA. You can get the positive effects of exercise by just walking for 30 minutes every day. You can amplify the effect of your work-out by incorporating more activity into your daily routine: try parking your car a few blocks from work or your destination, take stairs whenever possible instead of an elevator, hike, bike, swim or join a dance class. There are so many ways to get moving!

Other Resources

Stress Reduction—Deep Relaxation

Chronic stress can have a powerful effect on your body as whole and your hormones in particular. Stress is when you perceive a threat (this can be a negative thought as much as an external danger), and your body releases a cascade of stress hormones, including cortisol, to put you in a flight or fight response.

Stress shuts down all non-essential systems and directly affects the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovary Axis (HPO) that regulates hormones. As well, stress diverts blood supply away from the ovaries and interferes with your body’s ability to respond to hormones. To make matters worse, high levels of estrogen amplify the effects of stress hormones like cortisol creating a negative feedback loop that ramps up your stress level.


Furthermore,  meditating, mind-body programs, and general self-care can help reduce distress and promote deep relaxation. Take time each day to nurture yourself: read an inspiring book, have a massage, go to the spa, keep a journal, garden, enjoy a bubble bath with candles and music, or have a walk in nature.