When a girl reaches the age of 14, ovulation and menstruation will commence as part of her normal physiology. This is a natural phenomenon. However, for some girls, menstruation is accompanied with heavy bleeding and pain, such as lower abdominal cramps, lower back pain, headaches, neckaches, that adversely affect their daily life. This is medically known as dysmenorrhea.
Western medicine does not think a great deal about this. Doctors will prescribe painkillers or anti-inflammatory medicine, and tell you that this situation will correct itself after childbirth. And for some sufferers, dysmenorrhea still haunts them after childbirth. Doctors then say this situation will resolve itself after menopause.
If not, oral contraceptive pills are prescribed to artificially control the menstrual cycle. This is as if carving one’s foot to fit a smaller shoe. Not only does this not solve the problem, it creates a more drastic consequence of affecting the normal development and function of the reproductive system.
The basic understanding of western medicine is that girls with no sexual experience have tighter muscular structures in their cervix and vagina. Therefore when menstrual blood flowing out from the uterus meet pressure in the constricted areas, that would cause pain. After childbirth, the cervix and vagina will be less taut, thus reducing the pressure, and resolving dysmenorrhea. This understanding seems logical, yet does not explain why women after childbirth will still suffer from dysmenorrhea.
In fact, dysmenorrhea is an alarm bell to alert us of functional pathology of the reproductive system, especially of the uterus and ovaries. From the view of Chinese medicine, this is the pathology of the Kidney and Liver Qi. Just like when a fire alarm is triggered due to smoke puffing from a small fire, the immediate task must be to identify the location of fire and extinguish it. Instead western medicine turns off the alarm with analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs, and pretends there is no fire. The house may completely burn down, for example resulting in subfertility, endometriosis, fibroids, polycystic ovaries or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
When pathological changes first began in the uterus and ovaries, there is already dysfunction is caused by the stagnation of Qi and Blood. When this pathological state is allowed to persist for ten or twenty years, this easily results in organic changes in morphology such growth of uterine fibroids, polycystic ovaries, etc. Many women had to undergo hysterectomy or oophorectomy due to various problems of the reproductive system. Many of them had a history of dysmenorrhea, yet did not have it resolved sooner.
When I was still serving in a Taiwanese hospital, a middle aged lady brought her daughter to visit me one day. Her daughter, 23 or 24, had just graduated from teaching college and worked as a primary school teacher. However she suffered from pain in multiple joints, especially in her hands, fingers and knees. She had seen various specialists and done various medical tests such as X-rays and blood tests. None of them had discovered the problem. She became paranoid and worried constantly of having arthritis, lupus or autoimmune disease. When I first saw her and found out that she suffered from painful menstruation, I knew her condition was due to dysmenorrhea. I treated her with commonly used acupuncture points for dysmenorrhea. The outcome? All her problems were resolved, including joint pain and dysmenorrhea. After several years, she sent me an invitation to her wedding. Why did all the specialists not detect the problem? Because they are too specialised! As the patient complained about her hands, only the hands were examined. No one enquired about her menstruation which is outside of their specialties.Who would have thought that dysmenorrhea is linked to joint pain? This is the rationale of western medicine. They will check your head if you complain of headache, and check your leg if you complain of leg pain. Yet they cannot even treat the symptoms, how can they treat the root cause?
I met a Vietnamese Chinese couple in Australia 6 years ago. Their son was already in Year 8, yet the wife suffered from severe menstrual pain for 2 to 3 days every cycle. This greatly affected her daily life and work. Once she came to seek my help after intense menstrual pain for two days. After acupuncture, the pain ceased immediately. I suggested her to have acupuncture treatment before her next period, which she did. After one month, she rang to tell me that her period had just arrived with no symptoms at all. This was markedly different from her previous painful experiences. I treated her using the same method for 2-3 times. After 6 years, we have become friends, and her dysmenorrhea never recurred.
Generally dysmenorrhea is caused due to Cold obstructing the Channels, stagnating Qi and Blood, hence obstruction leading to pain.
Let’s examine a Chinese character for pain – 痛 (tong). The radical inside is 甬. 甬 means no obstruction, indicating that pain is associated with obstruction. So what is being obstructed? Primarily the Kidney channel. The Liver channel is also involved usually, as the Kidney governs the internal reproductive organs such as the uterus and ovaries, and the Liver governs the external genitals.
Another Chinese character for pain – 疼 (teng). The radical inside is 冬. 冬 means winter or cold. When there is excessive cold, the flow of Qi and Blood is naturally obstructed. Poor blood circulation and cold leads to coagulation. Consider a bowl of red bean soup or chicken soup. When you put it in the fridge, does the liquid become more fluid? Or does it become more congealed? Isn’t the flow of Qi and Blood in our bodies similar? When the Yang Qi in our body weakens, naturally Yin becomes abundant, cool and congeals. The correct understanding of this phenomenon will help us find the correct solution.
First, remove cold and increase warmth. Nourish Yang Qi. This includes abstinence from foods that are raw or cold. Avoid the wind and cold, especially during the week of menstrual flow. Abstain from icy or cold drinks, and foods that are cold in nature, for example, watermelon, pears, crabs. Put on more clothing to maintain warmth, especially the warmth of our feet where most important points of the Kidney and Liver channels are located. Also copiously include ginger, red dates and longan fruits in the diet to warm internally and eliminate cold. If necessary, take herbal medicine to nourish Yang and eradicate the internal cold.
Second, dredge the channels, remove the factors of obstruction. Acupuncture, acupressure, or channel guasha may be used. Commonly used points are Tai Chong on the foot, or San Yin Jiao on the lower leg, Zu San Li near the knee, and He Gu on the hand. However using Ji Quan on the right axilla, combined with Bing Feng on the left scapula gives positive response instantaneously every time.
Dysmenorrhea is not merely a matter of abdominal pain or discomfort. It is the embroilment of Qi and Blood stagnation and dysfunction within the entire reproductive system. This directly impacts the woman’s health in 20 to 30 years’ time. This condition must be treated and can be treated. Instead of using anti-inflammatory and analgesics to suppress the problem, prompt correct treatment will resolve the problem forever. However delayed treatment will result in many who require surgery later in life.
What is correct treatment? What is not? A fine line makes an enormous difference.