Acupuncture PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Ask the Acupuncturist:
Acupuncture Effectively Treats PMS Symptoms

by Kath Bartlett, MS, LAc

Dear Kath,

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 PMS complaints.

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 the emotions.

If you have a question you would like answered about acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine, please e-mail Kath Bartlett, L. Ac. at or call Asheville Center of Chinese Medicine (828) 258-2777.

Join the PulseMed mailing list

About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor