What East Asian Medicine Can Do for Your Cramps

Some of us truly dread our monthly cycle because it always comes with cramps. They can range anywhere from dull, mild aches to intense, raging, stabbing pain that knocks us off our feet. They can come at different times of our cycle—some women get them right before their menses, some during the first few days, all the way through, or right at the end, even when they’re not bleeding at all. Most of us have tried the usual suspects: pain pills from Ibuprofen to Demerol, birth control pills to regulate our hormones, depo provera to stop our cycles… lots of drugs have been thrown at women with cramps. Sometimes they even help, especially for milder cases. But what do you do if your pain is persistent and resists this type of treatment, or if you simply don’t want to keep putting chemicals into your body?

Luckily, there is the ages-old tradition of East Asian Medicine.  According to this tradition, there are a few main categories of patterns that might cause cramping. The first two patterns are due to blockage and fullness, while the last is a pattern of emptiness or deficiency.

  • Qi stasis. If you experience cramping right at the start of your cycle, perhaps even a day or so before bleeding begins, you are likely to have a pattern of qi stasis. Qi is the force that moves energy and fluids (including blood) through your body. If your qi isn’t flowing smoothly, neither is your blood. In this pattern, you might have small, thready, tissue-like, reddish clots that come out with your menstrual flow. The cramps can be intense but generally have an achy quality.
  • Blood stasis. If your cramps are sharp, intense, stabbing pains then you are more likely to have blood stasis, which means that there is some blood in your uterus that has gotten stuck. The pain is caused when your body tries to move this stuck blood out of your body but can’t. This is a common diagnosis for those of us with endometrial tissue. Blood stasis may further be due to cold stasis. In East Asian Medicine, the elements can literally enter our bodies and cause problems. Western cultures used to believe this too; just think of your grandma saying “bundle up or you might catch a chill.” Cold can enter the uterus when you’re exposed to a lot of cold things. Maybe you eat lots of raw food like salads or dairy (sadly, ice cream is a double whammy). Maybe you often go outside in the cold without adequately covering your abdomen or low back (think low-rise jeans and cropped tops). Your cramps are likely to be due to cold if you feel better curled up in a ball or with the application of heat to your low back or abdomen. You may also experience dark blood clots in a wide range of sizes, from bebes to silver dollars.
  • Deficiency. If your cramps tend to come at the end of your cycle, perhaps even a day after the bleeding itself has stopped, your pattern is more likely due to a deficiency. Your body needs blood to function properly. It expends a fair amount every time you have a cycle, which then must be regenerated. Generating blood takes lots of energy and qi. When you are low on blood and qi, your body becomes reluctant to let go of your menstrual blood. As you reach the end of your menses, your uterus starts cramping as it tries to hold onto what’s left.

All of these patterns can be treated through acupuncture and other techniques to move stuck qi, tone down excesses in the body or nourish its deficiencies.  Schedule an appointment today, or contact me for a free consultation.