A friend of mine suffers from PMS: she gets
irritable and cries the week before her period and has terrible
cramps. Can Acupuncture help with this? It sure would be
great to find something that could help her so she doesn't
have to go through this every month.
EB, Asheville, NC
You've come to the right place. I'm happy to report that acupuncture
resolves PMS complaints, including mood changes (irritability,
crying), and the physical symptoms such as breast swelling and
tenderness and menstrual cramping, headaches even hives and acne
occurring around the menses. In my practice, I see these symptoms
resolve very quickly: usually within one to two menstrual cycles.
How do we do this? Acupuncturists use a combination of acupuncture
and Chinese herbal formulas to treat the condition. We begin by
doing a comprehensive medical intake to see the whole picture
of symptoms the woman experiences not only relating to the menstrual
cycle, but also evaluating all the other organ systems in the
body. In doing so, we are able to develop a pattern diagnosis,
unique to each individual. We group symptoms together differently
than traditional western medicine, diagnosing patterns of related
symptoms affecting several different systems in the body. Typically,
we might link neck and shoulder tension, headaches on the temples,
and digestive problems with menstrual irregularities, such as
When a woman experiences PMS complaints, the TCM Liver System
is always involved. To give you a little background, the TCM Liver
System is responcible for moving Qi (pronounced "chee",
meaning your body's energy) throughout the body and through the
organs; so the digestive organs can digest food, the brain can
think, the muscles move, ect. When we get stressed or tense, we
tighten up and this stops Qi from moving through the organs and
muscle tissues. When Qi doesn't move we feel pain such as headaches,
menstrual cramps, muscle pain, ect.
Qi flows throughout the body in vessels, called channels or meridians
(they're like blood vessels that carry Qi). These meridians begin
at the fingers and toes, and then go through the abdomen. We name
them after one of the organs they pass through: hence the Liver
Channel begins at the big toe, goes up the inner leg and through
the reproductive organs, then continues up the sides of the chest
(through the liver and breast) and then up to the head and eyes.
When women experience PMS symptoms, generally they have some stress
in their lives (job or family) that causes them to get tense,
stagnating the Liver Qi all along the channel. The liver stores
the blood (in TCM theory) and sends it down to the uterus. When
Liver Qi gets stuck, before the menses, problems get compounded
because it's not able to move the blood to the uterus. This stuck
Qi causes us to get angry or irritable, or causes depression and
we cry a lot. The entire channel can be affected causing breast
swelling and tenderness and menstrual cramping.
Fortunately, acupuncture is designed to move Qi in the meridians.
Acupuncturists insert tiny, hair-like needles where the Qi is
blocked. There are Chinese herbal formulas that are 2,000 years
old and very good at resolving PMS problems. Let me give you an
example of a recent PMS case that responded very well to Chinese
Medicine. A woman called who had read about me on the Internet
when doing some research about acupuncture (I'll call her Sarah).
Sarah had PMS mood changes affecting her work and family life.
She described feeling like Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. One part
of the month life was great and she was very happy and positive.
The other half of the month Sarah was depressed, snapping at her
husband and co-workers and crying easily. She slept poorly, waking
during the night and had breast tenderness and cramping before
and during her periods.
I began weekly acupuncture treatments and gave her a customized
Chinese herbal formula to drink as a tea. After the first week,
her sleep had improved. After two visits, she had a period with
less cramping than usual. After four visits her sleep was normal.
It was four days before her period: her emotions were normal and
she felt breast tenderness only occasionally. After five visits
she had another period. Her emotions were normal, she had no breast
tenderness, and she felt sad and cramping for only one day. It
was about this time that she and her husband had a time conflict
with childcare. She offered to stay home and cancel her acupuncture
treatment, but her husband said, "No honey, you need to go".
He had seen such a change in his wife that he didn't want her
to miss a treatment. At this point I reduced visits to biweekly.
After seven treatments, when she was again pre-menstrual. Sarah
told me her "home life was good" and that she had no
cramping or breast-tenderness. This is a typical scenario of how
quickly PMS symptoms resolve with acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncturists often include Peppermint in Chinese herbal formulas
designed to treat PMS symptoms because it moves Liver Qi. I often
suggest to patients who experience anger or irritability around
the menses or due to stress to drink Peppermint tea to help smooth
If you have a question you would like answered about acupuncture
or Chinese herbal medicine, please e-mail Kath Bartlett, L. Ac.
at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Asheville Center of Chinese Medicine