Menstrual Cramps

By Dennis Yang

If you are experiencing menstrual cramps right now, try drinking about half a glass of red wine.  You will notice a significant reduction in pain by the time you finish reading the rest of this article.  I learned this from a patient of mine whose mother and sister practice acupuncture and herbs in China, and I have found that it indeed works.  Here is what I think happens in scientific terms.

A brief summary of what the scientists have discovered on menstrual cramps is that a chemical compound called prostaglandin causes the muscles of the uterus to contract, constricting the blood supply to the endometrium until the old tissues die, and then squeezing the dead tissues out of the body.  This “squeezing” is what we call menstrual cramps.  Higher levels of prostaglandins may be responsible for more intense menstrual cramps, and this holds the key, in my opinion, to reducing menstrual cramps.

It may be hard to believe for some, but I have had patients who claim that they never experienced menstrual cramps in their lives.  Over time, I have found some commonalities in their body structures; lack of excessive lordosis (curvature of lumbar spine), lack of asymmetry in pelvis, and most importantly, lack of tender points on inner thighs right above the knees along the acupuncture channels that travel through the uterus.

On the other hand, on patients who experience severe menstrual cramps, I always find two exquisitely tender points on each inner thigh, and either excessive lordosis or an asymmetric pelvis.  These are what I try to correct for my patients (along with treating hormonal imbalances, which I may talk about in the future), and I have had very good success with this approach.  It seems to me that structural imbalances cause higher levels of prostaglandins because the body has to work harder to squeeze out the dead tissues.  In acupuncture, we call structural imbalances “blood stasis.”

Blood stasis is treated in two ways in Eastern medicine.  One, you quicken the blood flow artificially, and yes, this is exactly what red wine does.  Two, you remove the obstruction of the blood flow itself, which treats the problem at its root.  Since not everyone drinks red wine and drinking it does not fundamentally treat the problem, I much prefer the second method.

While the structural imbalances need to be treated by a professional, removing the obstruction in acupuncture channels is something you can do at home.

  • Palpate around the inner thighs approximately 1 – 5 inches above the knees.  You will most likely find 2 points that are exquisitely tender upon pressure with the thumb.  Note that while these are acupuncture points, they are not regular points that can be found in acupuncture books.
  • Massage them with your thumb.  If you find this awkward, you can pound them with your fist.
  • If you find it difficult to locate these points, it is okay to massage the entire inner thigh.  I recommend using a runner’s stick.
  • I recommend daily massage starting about 7 days before the cramps start as prevention; you want to open up the channels as much as you can before the prostaglandins kick in.  If you are already in the middle of having menstrual cramps, massaging like this, when done correctly, can reduce the menstrual cramps within a couple of minutes.
  • Over time, you will find that these points become less tender, or disappear all together.  That is how you know that the obstructions in the channels are removed.
  • Be aware that massaging excessively during menstruation may quicken the menstrual blood flow too much.  It’s like opening up a floodgate.  Drinking too much red wine has the same effect.

In closing, I would like to share that I am often asked whether PMS is avoidable.  I believe that it is.  I once treated a patient with PMDD (PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), which is basically a severe form of PMS.  With regular maintenance treatment, she no longer experiences any PMDD symptoms, which she previously needed hormonal therapy for.  While I may not have extensive data on this, what I see in my own clinic is that the human body is designed way too intelligently for women to suffer from PMS every month for decades.