Painful Periods & Holistic Treatment

Many women dread their periods for a multitude of reasons. We’ve all been there! Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, including acupuncture and herbs, offer excellent results for most women who suffer. Painful periods, also known as dysmenorrhea, are among the worst problems. Women experience pain before, during, or after their cycles, for a number of reasons. Using TCM, including careful observation of the tongue and body, the pulse, and thoughtful questions for the patient, we are able to distinguish patterns of disharmony and develop appropriate treatment plans for each individual. Endometriosis and fibroids are two of the most common conditions that cause painful periods, alongside a host of issues without a clear medical identification. Regardless of a Western medicine diagnosis, Traditional Chinese medicine views the body as a whole, taking in consideration a myriad of factors, and then treating them accordingly.

Dysmenorrhea indicates pain before, during, or after menstruation. From a TCM perspective, stagnation is THE most important pathological condition that leads to dysmenorrhea, causing pain in the lower abdomen or sacral (low back) region. From a Chinese medicine understanding the Liver, Chong Meridian, and Ren Meridian are responsible for the physiology of menstruation. For normal periods to occur, Blood must be plentiful and move properly throughout the body. The proper movement of Blood relies on the free flowing energy of Liver Qi. While these TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) terms may seem a bit odd, Chinese medicine is a system of thought and practice developed over 3 millennia, viewing the body as a whole and systems that affect one another creating patterns of disharmony.

So what causes stagnation in the uterus?

Emotional Strain is on the top of the list, creating Liver Qi stagnation. Emotions such as anger, frustration, resentment, or even hatred can all lead to Liver Qi stagnation. These emotions can affect the period, causing pain, and Blood stagnation in the uterus.

Cold and Dampness can also invade the uterus and cause stagnation. Cold and Damp conditions especially when they come in direct contact with the vaginal, abdominal, and/ or lower back region can cause the uterus to contract and Blood to stagnate. Women are most vulnerable to Cold before and during their period. This is a particular time to take care and not expose oneself to these conditions. No sitting on cold concrete, wet cold grass, or cold metal stadium bleachers for example.

Over Work and Chronic Illness also leads to a deficiency of Qi and Blood, especially in the Stomach and the Spleen. A Blood deficiency does not allow the uterus to fill appropriately with Blood, creating stagnation and pain.

The Liver and the Kidneys are weaked by to many child births too close together. This emptiness does not allow the uterus to properly heal and fill with blood and energy leading to painful periods.

There are several factors and questions to consider when determining one’s pattern of disharmony.
For instance:
When does one’s menstrual pain begin? Before, during, or after the period?
Is the pain better or worse with pressure?
Is the pain relieved by hot or cold?
Is the pain better after passing clots?
Pain with pronounced feeling of distension?
Burning pain? Cramping pain? Stabbing pain? Pulling pain?
Bearing down pain before the period?Bearing down pain after the period?

Location of pain is also something TCM practitioners take in to consideration.
Is the pain located on both sides of the lower abdomen or in the sacral region?

Patterns of Disharmony that can cause Dysmenorrhea.
Stagnation of Qi and Blood
Symptoms include: lower abdomen pain during or 1-2 days before the period, a feeling of distension in the abdomen and the breasts, hesitancy starting the period, dark blood with clots, pain relieved with clots passing, PMS, and irritability.
Tongue: purple

Stagnation of Cold
Symptoms include: lower abdomen pain before or after the period, pain more centralized, pain relieved with heat, scanty, bright red blood with clots, feeling cold, sore back.
Tongue: pale-bluish or blushish-purple

Damp Heat
Symptoms include: hypogastric pain (above the pubic bone) before the period and some mid cycle, burning sensation extending to the sacrum, feeling of heat, red menstrual blood with small clots, vaginal discharge, scanty dark urine.
Tongue: red sticky yellow

Qi and Blood Deficiency
Dull hypogastric pain towards the end of or after the period, dragging sensation in the lower abdomen, pain relieved by pressure and massage, scanty bleeding, pale complexion, fatigue, slight dizziness, loose stools.
Tongue: pale

Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency
Dull hypogastric pain towards the end of or after the period, sore back, dizziness, scanty bleeding, pain relieved by pressure and massage, tinnitus, blurred vision, exhaustion.
Tongue: red with no coating

There are 4 different phases during the menstrual cycle when the woman’s energetic systems shift and change.

1. During menstruation
2. After menstruation
3. During mid cycle (ovulation)
4. Before menstruation

Within each of these phases imbalances can occur potentially leading to dysmenorrhea. The goal of the treatment for painful periods is to balance out any disharmonies and allow a healthy and pain-free cycle to occur.
Acupuncture and herbal treatments are often changed according to where the patient is in her cycle. It’s recommended at least three months of treatment for the best results. While pain relievers can help, they are not correcting the root cause of this often debilitating condition. Acupuncture and herbs can offer long term and lasting pain relief.


Acupuncturist, herbalist, Maya abdominal practitioner, and reflexologist Christina Morris is the founder of Element Natural Healing Arts. Writing about health and wellness gives her an outlet to express her care and concern for her beloved community. She believes everyone can achieve better health and happiness–emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.