This recent summary provides a technical account of how traditional Chinese Medicine can alleviate period pain. The researchers found that, in all cases, acupuncture leads to a significant reduction in the intensity and duration of menstrual pain after three months of treatment, and the results were sustained one year after trial entry.
There are a variety of theories regarding the mechanisms by which TCM therapies can relieve pain from dysmenorrhea. Armour et al. suggest there are “plausible mechanisms of action for acupuncture to improve primary dysmenorrhea, including endogenous opioid release, reduction of inflammation, alterations in uterine blood flow and changes in prostaglandin levels.”  In a study conducted by Yang et al. to investigate the efficacy of moxibustion at the acupoints CV4 (Guanyuan), CV8 (Shenque), and SP6 (Sanyinjiao), the researchers found that pain levels decreased over the three month trial, and that the therapeutic effect of moxibustion was sustained in the three months after the trial ended. Through blood tests, the researchers also found that moxibustion decreased levels of both PGF2 and PGE2, which allows for increased blood flow and decreased contractility of the uterus.  Heat is also well understood to regulate menstrual pain — “an abdominal heat wrap was found to be as effective as ibuprofen, and more effective than acetaminophen in relieving dysmenorrheic pain”  — and thus it is not surprising that heat from moxa, especially directly over the abdomen, would be similarly effective for inducing vessel dilation and increasing blood flow to decrease pain.  The acupoint SP6 (Sanyinjiao) may be distal, but it is effective for the treatment of dysmenorrhea, “likely due to the fact that SP6 is segmental to the uterus… This segmental activation at the level of sacral spinal nerve 2 (S2) may lead to reflex sympathetic inhibition of the uterus resulting in increased uterine blood flow.”
The most important result of this study, and others like it, is that menstrual pain is not inevitable. Many women may feel that medications — either NSAIDs or oral contraceptives — are their only option for treating their monthly symptoms, but acupuncture has been shown to be equally effective, and its effects last long after the course of treatment. Additionally, TCM practitioners provide individualized advice that helps women take an active role in caring for themselves. Acupuncture can provide a safe and effective alternative to medications. This study shows that the abdominal pain and emotional symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea can be addressed with TCM, and it will hopefully empower women to address their menstrual pain holistically and efficiently.