Menstrual cramps are a common side effect of our monthly period and it is one that has been bothering women for centuries. In TCM, it was first recorded in a book called ‘General Treatise on the Cause and Symptoms of Diseases’ (诸病源候论), completed in 610CE, during the Sui (隋) dynasty in China.
Today, the medical term for menstrual cramps is ‘dysmenorrhea’. Modern medicine classifies dysmenorrhea into primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea refers to the common menstrual cramps that recur monthly and are not due to other diseases. Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, is usually more severe and involves causes such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, etc.
An insight into menstrual cramps
From a TCM perspective, menstrual cramps occur when there are drastic changes of Qi and blood happening in the Chong and Ren meridians (冲任二脉). Both Chong and Ren meridians are closely related to the formation of menstruation. Menstrual cramps are generally classified into deficiency (虚) and excess (实).
People nowadays are leading such hectic lives that our minds can rarely get some time to rest. Overthinking is the most common cause of deficiencies of important elements in our bodies, not just because thinking itself consumes energy, it actually puts stress on our Spleen. In TCM, the Spleen governs the digestive system, which is the source of important elements such as Qi and blood (脾主运化，为‘气血生化之源’).
When there are deficiencies in essence and blood (精血), the Chong and Ren meridians, ovaries and uterus tend to become undernourished during or after the period . This condition then leads to menstrual cramps, and is often referred to as ‘pain due to malnourishment’ (不荣则痛) in TCM.
This kind of cramps usually occurs during or near the end of each menstrual period.
This kind of menstrual cramps happens when there are illness-causing factors such as Qi stagnation, blood stasis, Cold, or Heat-Dampness accumulating in the body. The reason why these illness-causing factors appear can be attributed to our poor lifestyle habits: high stress levels, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, consuming cold food and drinks, staying in a cold environment for many hours, smoking, or consuming alcohol.
The illness-causing factors are obstructive for the Qi and blood circulations in the Chong and Ren meridians, ovaries and uterus. As the TCM saying goes: “Whenever there is blockage, there will be pain” (不通则痛), thus menstrual cramps occur as a result of these obstruction.
In this case, menstrual cramps often occur right before the period starts or during the early part of one’s period.
Treatments for menstrual cramps
From a TCM point of view, both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea can be treated based on their symptoms and which type of menstrual cramps they are. Different treatment options may be provided, which normally includes herbal medication, acupuncture, and moxibustion.
However, some diseases that lead to secondary dysmenorrhea may require western intervention/ regular checkups to monitor your condition before consulting a TCM practitioner. These diseases include endometriosis, adenomyosis, and uterine fibroids, as they involve an abnormal growth of tissue and usually worsen over time.
If you have been experiencing increasing pain through several menstrual cycles, and over-the-counter medication such as painkillers hardly seem to help with the cramps, you should get medical advice from a gynecologist as soon as possible.
Menstrual care tips
In TCM, it is believed that women become susceptible to invasion of external illness-causing factors after blood loss. As a result, the Qi and blood circulations in the body become irregular, and when combined with mood swings, this often leads to a weaker immune system. Illnesses will then occur whenever there is a mishandling of menstrual care.
Here are some general tips for you to take note before and during menstruation:
- Keep clean – reproductive organs are susceptible to infection during menstruation. Wipe your private parts with a wet towel to clean, avoid sexual intercourse, taking long baths, and swimming.
- Avoid overtiredness – overtiredness weakens the kidney, Qi and blood. Avoid strenuous activities and vigorous exercises.
- Avoid coldness – Cold and Cold-Dampness can lead to Qi stagnation and blood stasis. Avoid exposing your body or limbs in windy and cold environments, getting wet in rain, washing legs, or bathing with cold water.
- Regular dietary habits – an imbalanced diet tends to generate illness-causing factors such as Heat-Dampness or Cold in the body. Avoid overconsumption of alcohol and heaty (spicy, fried, oily, sweet), cold, or raw food. Maintain a lighter taste, with a nutritious and balanced diet.
- Regulate your emotions – mood swings can weaken the Qi and blood circulations. Stay away from possible sources of emotional changes, avoid conflicts, and maintain a peaceful mind.
Also, here are some tips to prevent and resolve menstrual cramps.
1. Avoid cold food and drinks one week before your period.
2. *Put a hot water bag or heating pad on your lower abdomen during menstruation.
3. Drink some warm ginger tea one week before and during menstruation.
You may wish to purchase our PULSE Women’s Ginger Tea to promote healthy Qi and relieve menstrual cramps.
Gently massage in a circular motion for 5minutes, twice a day.
*These tips are not suitable for Heat-Dampness type of menstrual cramps.
Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
At PULSE, we are here to support you through the various stages in life and the changes in your body. Whether you are looking to manage your period, pregnancy, or trying to conceive, our physicians are here to ensure you achieve holistic healing and improve your overall well-being. Learn more about how TCM can help with Women’s Health.
Further reading: https://pulsetcm.sg/category/womens-health/