Acupuncture can significantly reduce the pain and duration of the painful pre-menstrual cramping condition known as dysmenorrhea, a number of studies have found.
Dysmenorrhea may either result from an underlying pathology of the pelvis (known as "secondary" dysmenorrhea), or it may occur in the absence of any known pathology or cause ("primary" dysmenorrhea). Approximately 25 percent of all dysmenorrhea cases are, whether primary or secondary, resistant to treatment by the class of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Acupuncture has long been used in China for treating premenstrual pain, but controlled scientific studies into its efficacy have only begun in recent years. One such study, published in the journal Evidence-based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine in 2010, focused on women who had been suffering from moderate to severe dysmenorrhea for at least one year, and whose pain was resistant to NSAID treatment. All the women in the study had declined treatment with oral contraceptives, which is one of the first treatments typically prescribed by doctors.
The researchers found that of the 15 women included in the study, 13 experienced significant pain reduction and reduced their use of NSAIDs following acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture appeared to be most effective at reducing pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea.
Another study conducted by researchers from the Shandong Academy of Chinese Medicine and published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2011, followed 80 women with primary dysmenorrhea over three complete menstrual cycles. Women received either no acupuncture, an acupuncture treatment during their dysmenorrhea symptoms ("immediate acupuncture") or an acupuncture treatment prior to the onset of their periods ("preconditioning acupuncture"). The researchers found that preconditioning acupuncture reduced both the severity and length of dysmenorrhea symptoms significantly better than either no acupuncture or immediate acupuncture.
In contrast to Western treatment methods such as hormonal contraceptives, which are targeted only at specific symptoms and which often carry serious side effects, acupuncture is part of the holistic healthcare philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine. Like all components of Chinese medicine, acupuncture views the body as composed of interlocking systems that must all be in balance to produce good health.
Traditionally, acupuncture consists of inserting long, thin needles into specific body locations ("meridians") indicated by the specific health complaint. It is typically combined with other treatment methods including dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal supplements and energy therapies such as Quigong.
In recent years, acupuncture has becoming increasingly popular in Western countries, in part because of a growing body of scientific research supporting its effectiveness. In particular, studies have shown that acupuncture is especially helpful in the treatment of pain - so much so that it is now covered by many private insurance plans and has even been prescribed by the U.S. military.
The National Institutes of Health has also recognized acupuncture as a scientifically supported treatment and has recommended it for numerous conditions including dysmenorrhea and pain. Acupuncture is considered safe, non-invasive, and side effect free.