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Chinese Medicine and menstrual cramps: can acupuncture relieve menstrual pain?

3 min read
Cycle Care

coCreated by

José van der Meulen - Acupuncturist & sinologist
Chinese Medicine has a unique and holistic view on menstrual pain. The cause of menstrual pain isn’t always the same, which means that the treatment can also differ. Acupuncture can alleviate cramps, PMS, and other menstruation symptoms.

Just your luck. You’ve planned a weekend getaway, are wearing your new lingerie set, have an exciting date planned, and voilà, your period rears its head like a true party-crasher. We all have been there! For many of us, our menstruation can cause some inconveniences, but is not severe enough to ruin your week. For some, this sadly isn’t the case. Every month again, they struggle with severe pain.

To this day, the anti conception pill is prescribed as a solution, or you’re advised to just take an over the counter painkiller ‘when necessary’. More and more, people have stopped recognizing birth control pills as the tried and true answer, as its side effects can be worse than the ailment it’s meant to solve. And taking painkillers each month for the next 20 years probably isn’t great for your body, either. What can be a (natural) alternative? Cycle investigated whether Chinese Medicine can be of help for cramps and pain during your menstruation and spoke about this with acupuncturist and Cycle expert José van der Meulen.

The cause of menstrual pain isn’t always the same, which means that the treatment can also differ. There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment. Besides, for example, a treatment based in Chinese Medicine, we also recommend stopping by your general practitioner if you suffer from intense menstrual pain or heavy blood loss. These things are not normal and shouldn’t happen.

In Chinese Medicine, we can differentiate between multiple ‘types’ of menstrual pain. Each of these types has its own approach.

Three different types of menstrual pain

Type Qi & Blood Stasis

This is characterized by sharp stabbing sensations and heavy cramping during your period, large blood clots and dark blood. In Chinese Medicine, this is a sign that the energy and blood circulation in the pelvis isn’t optimal. Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and a diet with plenty of magnesium (such as from pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and avocados) can help. Castor oil packings can also be of aid for this type of menstrual pain. Be sure to always do castor oil packings under expert supervision, because improper use can have pesky side effects (for example when you have a child-wish).

Type Cold Stagnation 

In an ideal world, would you take your heating pad along with you everywhere? Do you always have cold hands and feet, and do you feel dull pain during your menstruation cramping that can be alleviated by applying warmth? Then you’re probably dealing with the type of pain that’s caused by Cold Stagnation. According to Chinese Medicine, cold makes your blood solidify, which prevents your blood and energy from flowing freely. In this case, you primarily want to feed your Yang energy. Try to eat less raw and cold foods. Instead, go for warming foods such as oats, dill, ginger, cinnamon, black beans, cooked vegetables, and tea made from warming spices. Warm foot baths and moxa herbs, which you can get at a good acupuncturist, should also be of great help when dealing with Cold Stagnation.

Type Blood Deficiency

This type is characterized by a mild, nagging pain during or after your period, headaches and fatigue at the end of your period, seeing stars when standing up, hair loss, breakable nails, and a noticeably light or heavy blood flow. While the pain is less intense, it is still very important to deal with the underlying cause. Here, too, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and blood-nourishing foods are key. Examples of ‘blood-nourishing’ products include beets, nettle tea, black sesame seeds, eggs, lentils, bone broth, watercress, dried apricots & pumpkin seeds.

Needles in my body when I’m on my period? I’d rather not…

Thankfully, that’s often not needed. Depending on your needs, a treatment plan will be created. The treatment will be adjusted to the individual client, which makes it fully customizable. For menstrual complaints, it’s ideal to undergo treatment once a week to support all phases of the cycle. A treatment can also be done when the symptoms act up. For PMS, this is often in the last week (or 10 days) prior to the menstruation, while it’s often right before the start of the menstruation for menstrual pain. During menstruation, most people don’t feel their best, which makes treatment unpleasant.

Want to know more about PMS? Read our extensive article here.

Acupuncture and an irregular cycle

Indeed, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can support an irregular or longer cycle (such as those that are common in PCOS, for example). Do keep in mind that the effects won’t be immediate, and that it’ll often be combined with additional recommendations concerning diet and/or supplements.

PCOS is more common than you think, it occurs in 1 in 10 women. Do you want to find out more about this? Read our article in which everything is explained.

Are you planning to try out a treatment based in Chinese Medicine? Be sure to do your research to find a good therapist, and don’t just start experimenting yourself. Herbs can cause severe consequences, so only use them under expert guidance. Don’t forget to check if the acupuncturist is part of a trade association (Within the Netherlands, Zhong, NVA, or NAAV are good examples. If you live elsewhere, be sure to look up such acupuncturists in your region.). Acupuncturists that are members of these associations have to comply with stern quality requirements, and also have to be re-trained in both the fields of Western Medicine and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).

Frequently, the treatment will be covered by your supplementary healthcare insurance, but do be sure to check this to avoid unpleasant surprises. Please note that insurance companies often only reimburse acupuncture consults from acupuncturists who are members of a trade association.


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Cycle is a community where all aspects of the female body are discussed freely. From menstruation to menopause: we'll help you understand your body, mind, cycle and sexuality better, with the help of our Cycle Experts.