Menstrual pain, known as dysmenorrhoea, is a problem that many of us put up with every month.
The pain and discomfort, which can be severe for some, are caused by your uterus working harder to dislodge and expel its lining.
These contractions are triggered by hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins - the higher your prostaglandin levels, the more intense the uterine contractions and the more pain you will experience.
Besides pain in the abdomen, lower back and legs, dysmenorrhoea is also associated with headaches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, acne, digestive issues like bloat, diarrhoea and constipation, painful and tender breasts, and even fainting. Emotional symptoms may include irritability, moodiness and anxiety.
Menstrual cramps explained
According to Traditonal Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Wen Hong, a senior consultant at the General Health department at Life!Clinic, period pain and discomfort are due to a number of internal and external factors.
"The most common external cause is 'coldness' in the pelvic region," she shares. "Internal causes may be due to a stagnation of qi, or energy flow, and a deficiency in the blood," she explains.
"When you lose blood during your period, you also lose its 'splenic component' which leads to a decrease in splenic function. This causes the bloat that some women experience. If you suffer from backache during your period, that's a sign of a deficiency in your renal function, caused by a loss of the renal component of your blood," she adds.
Wen Hong clarifies that TCM is not the same as Western medicine. So, a deficiency in renal function in TCM is not equivalent to kidney disease in Western medicine.
In addition to these problems affecting the body, in TCM, menstrual pain and discomfort can also be caused by emotional problems, an unhealthy diet, work stress, and a poor constitution.
"Together, these lead to an imbalance in the body," says Goh You Li, a TCM physician at Raffles Chinese Medicine. "The symptoms are how your body lets you know that the imbalance needs to be addressed. If the symptoms are affecting your daily routine or have become unbearable, you should seek treatment as soon as possible."
Relieve period pain with TCM
There is no blanket remedy for period pain and other issues associated with menstruation. As every body is different, so too are the causes behind the symptoms. And these causes must be addressed in different ways, according to your constitution, lifestyle, diet and other factors.
TCM treatments for menstrual pain vary, from herbal therapy and acupuncture to external heat therapy and moxibustion, which involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, over the skin.
"In TCM, we believe that we can balance a person's constitution to minimise pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms," says Wen Hong.
"So, for example, if you experience fatigue, this means that you have a deficiency in your qi and blood. We then use the tonifying method of treatment."
Whatever your symptoms, a TCM physician will have to first assess your medical history and examine your tongue and pulse before giving you a diagnosis. "What works for one woman may not work for another," Wen Hong says.
You Li adds that whatever your symptoms, it's important to keep warm when you're having your period - this is crucial to prevent the various symptoms that are largely due to coldness affecting one's blood circulation and flow of qi.
See also: - Best TCM herbs for women
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