Do periods have to be painful?
No! Periods do not have to be a pain, or painful.
The female period is a natural fact of life and a necessity for reproduction and the survival of our human species. Then why are periods frequently associated with dread, disgust and discomfort?
Unfortunately the belief that period pain and discomfort is normal is often passed down through generations and amongst peers.
In this blog I explore and explain why periods do not have to be a pain, but often are, and what to do about it.
So, let’s recap on what a normal female period should be like:
Between the ages of 12-52 (approx.) the female period should occur regularly for 4-7 days every 26-31 days. The menstrual blood flow is not too heavy or too light, the colour is fresh red and there are no clots. The period is pain free and minimal discomfort is experienced before, during and after the period.
That’s the ideal.
However, for lots of girls and women their menstrual reality unfortunately looks and feels very different. They suffer a range of menstrual irregularities, pain, emotional instability and discomfort through their cycles. Month after month. Year after year. In fact, a woman menstruates for approximately 40 years. If you do the maths, that’s potentially a lot of days and years of discomfort.
And men wonder why we get a bit irritable at times!
Sisters, here’s what to look out for:
Following is a list of possible (and important!) symptoms relating to periods:
- Amenorrhea (no periods)
- Oligomenorrhea (infrequent periods)
- Menorrhagia (heavy/excessive menstrual bleeding)
- Metorrhagia (bleeding outside the cycle)
- Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
- Anovulation (no ovulation)
- Cyclical complaints such as: PMT, headaches, migraines, indigestion, depression, moodiness, insomnia, acne, breast tenderness etc.
Any pain, irregularity or cyclical symptom can signify internal imbalance or obstruction. Symptoms can occur acutely or chronically and can range from mild to severely debilitating. Do not ignore a symptom thinking it’s probably normal. It may be common, but that still doesn’t mean it’s right.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the history and nature of a woman’s menstrual cycle and her associated symptoms indicate a great deal about her overall health and internal balance or imbalances.
Menstrual symptoms are always considered a crucial part of the holistic ‘big picture’ of a woman’s diagnosis pattern, which ultimately forms the treatment strategy.
What causes period pain and problems?
Endometriosis, polycystic ovaries syndrome (PCOS), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), fibroids and abnormal cervical cell changes are some of the commonly acknowledged reasons conventional medicine relate to menstrual problems, period pain and fertility issues. The actual causes of these conditions are largely unknown from the conventional medicine point of view. Treatments typically involve hormonal medications or surgery.
Menstruation and reproductive functions are related to the fluctuations of several hormones. In TCM we acknowledge this in addition to our unique understanding and terminology of bodily functions and fluids. This understanding helps explain the root cause of many gynaecological and menstrual problems. In order for the smooth, pain-free, and regular flow of periods to happen the amounts and flow of what we call the Yin and the Yang, the Qi and the Blood must all be sufficient and balanced.
Hormones, Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood can easily get disrupted and out of balance either by being depleted, excessive, blocked or stagnated. This happens due to one or a combination of factors, including:
- Trauma (physical and/or psychological)
- Previous childbirths
- Environmental exposure
- Diet and lifestyle
The good news is many period and gynaecological problems can be prevented, treated or minimized by observation, awareness, and action.
How can TCM help period problems and ease the pain?
To help overcome period problems TCM treatments may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, remedial massage, cupping and heat (moxa). Treatments are timed according to the woman’s menstrual cycle. Typically the strategy is to promote flow pre-period to reduce pain and pre-menstrual symptoms, and then nourish and supplement post period when blood has been lost.
Acupuncture can work wonders in reducing acute period pain. With regular treatments it can help prevent the pain from happening each month. Chinese herbal medicine is generally needed for at least a few months (3-12 months) to regulate the menstrual cycle and to make significant long-term changes. Generally the longer the problem has existed the longer it may take to treat.
Whenever a woman seeks TCM treatment she may be asked details about her periods, even when receiving treatments for other health concerns such as sleep or digestive issues. Women will often find any menstrual issues are indirectly relieved as systemic balance is sought and achieved in general. A great bonus! And we don’t even charge extra for that!
TCM treatment of gynaecological complaints are frequently integrated with conventional medicine treatments with improved success rate. Investigative tests and scans can show and confirm disorders such as the ones mentioned above. Sometimes surgery is necessary and TCM then takes the role of aiding recovery post surgery. However, preventative medicine is always preferable and TCM can potentially help preventing serious gynaecological issues from developing if the initial imbalance is picked up early enough and treated appropriately.
The path to more pleasant and pain free periods starts with you (but we’re here to help you along the way)
The contraceptive pill is regularly prescribed to women, including very young teenage girls, as the solution to almost any menstrual pain and problem. From the TCM perspective ‘the pill’ will potentially mask the symptoms, prolong and worsen the imbalance that is causing the problem in the first place.
Women, please listen to your body! Listen to your daughters, your mothers and your girlfriends. Don’t just skip and ignore your precious periods. And don’t ignore pain and discomfort. It’s your body telling you it’s time to take action.
Periods are a natural part of life and do NOT have to be a pain!
I’m a (menstruating) woman, the mother of a teenage daughter and a qualified Chinese Medicine practitioner at Gardenvale Traditional Chinese Medicine where we help address period problems and pain on a daily basis.
Healthcare Medicine Institute. (2017). Acupuncture Painful Menstruation Relief Finding. Retrieved from http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1787-acupuncture-painful-menstruation-relief-finding (sited 8 Sep 2017)