The ancient art of acupuncture can help alleviate everything from physical pain to stagnant energy — so why not use it master one of the trickiest wellness issues to tame — our periods?
This post is part of an ongoing collaboration with The Chalkboard Mag.
As we spend more and more time learning to master our monthly cycle, using acupuncture for PMS might just be the old, but new healing modality you need. One of TCM’s favorite local pros, Dr. Kara MoraMarco-Kendrick of LA-based Aculand, is sharing her guide to acupuncture for PMS below…
It’s that time of the month again! “But my cycle isn’t due to start for another two weeks. Why am I feeling like I want to eat and craving everything, opening the fridge every two minutes and crying over a puppy add on TV?’” The answer could be PMS.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common gynecological disorder which affects most women at some point in their lives. The premenstrual phase occurs one to two weeks prior to bleeding.
Every woman and menstrual cycle is different and PMS symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. One woman might only experience a slight discomfort whereas another can be extremely affected. But the good news? Chinese medicine can help. Treatments are personalized and specific to you, aimed at treating the root cause.
Some of the most commonly seen symptoms are:
Emotional lability, commonly known as moodiness, irritability, sadness
Cravings (especially for sweets)
Breast swelling and/or tenderness
Weight gain (due to water retention)
Constipation or diarrhea
Headaches or migraines
Acne flare up
These symptoms may be experienced for only a day or two each month, or they can last up to several weeks.
PMS In Traditional Chinese Medicine Explained
According to the TCM theory, PMS is experienced when the normal flow of Qi and blood is interrupted. The basic energetic imbalance is Liver Qi stagnation. In Chinese medicine, our liver is responsible for maintaining a smooth movement and circulation of Qi around our body. In other words, the function of the endocrine system and the rise and fall of hormones in the body is disrupted, all of which leads to experiencing the symptoms mentioned above.
Where does this Liver Qi stagnation occur? Being a woman in today’s society in not the easiest, and we feel like we need to be superwomen. Handling career, family, social life and social media all at the same time can be overwhelming and generate more stress than the human body is capable of withstanding.
How do I manage PMS?
Acupuncture is one of the best treatment modalities for the management of PMS. The goal of the treatment is to remove any blockages from the body and, at the same time, balance hormonal fluctuations. Acupuncture also leaves you feeling deeply relaxed, calms the mind and reduces stress, resulting in emotional harmony. Many of my patients notice a big relief in their PMS symptoms within their first cycle.
One of the best herbal formulas for PMS is called Xiao Yao San. It has been used for thousands of years with successful results in balancing hormonal transition and supporting the liver. Chinese herbal medicine is extremely effective in the treatment of PMS. There are herbs that are specific to soothing the liver, regulating the flow of blood and Qi around the body. Your herbalist will prescribe the most suitable formula for your specific symptoms and constitution.
Do you start your day by grabbing a vegetable juice or frozen smoothie from the fridge and eating a big raw salad for lunch? Sounds healthy, right? In Chinese medicine, we believe that consuming foods and icy drinks that are cold and raw for a long period of time can weaken the digestive system and cause more menstrual cramping during and before the cycle. Therefore, try to incorporate more warm, cooked foods and room temperature drinks.
Foods to limit that tend to aggravate the liver:
Heavy red meats more than once a week
Greasy and fried foods
Spicy and hot foods
Overeating, in general
Seed cycling helps to balance yin and yang which translates to estrogen (day 1-14, follicular phase) and progesterone (day 15-28 luteal phase). Different seeds contain different nutrients that are necessary for our hormones: On day 1 of the menstrual cycle until day 14, have one tablespoon of flaxseed and one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds. On day 14 until next cycle, one tablespoon of sunflower seeds and one tablespoon of sesame seeds.
Regular exercise (three to five times a week for approximately 30-45 minutes) will help to move the Qi around the body freely and prevent stagnation. We love Tai Chi and yoga as it also helps with stress.
How do I use acupressure to treat PMS?
LIVER 3 (LR3) | This is one of the most commonly used acupuncture points on the body that is mainly used to move stagnant energy. This point can soothe the frustration and irritability feelings, help with abdominal cramps as well as breast tenderness.
Location of the point: LV3 is located on the dorsum of the foot, in the depression distal to the junction of the big and second toe. Press both points on each foot firmly for 60-90 seconds while breathing deeply.
LARGE INTESTINE 4 (LI4) | Another major acupuncture point is LI4 and is usually combined with LR3 and we refer it as the “four gates.” It is used to open up the flow of Qi throughout the body. This point is commonly used in the treatment of migraines and headaches but it can be used for any pain experienced in the whole body.
Location of the point: LI4 is located on the highest spot of the muscle when the thumb and index fingers are brought close together. Use a deep, firm pressure to massage and stimulate the area for thirty seconds to a minute.
SPLEEN 6 (SP6) | This is one of the best female acupuncture/acupressure points. It regulates the menstruation, promotes the flow of Qi in the pelvis and relaxes the liver. It is the number one point for menstrual cramps as it has a direct connection with the uterus. It can also help with bloating and digestion.
Location of the point: SP6 is located approximately four fingers above the tip of the medial malleolus, where there is usually a very tender depression. Press both points on each foot firmly for 60-90 seconds while breathing deeply.