What the Studies Show for Treating Menstrual Cramps
A 2016 systemic review and meta-analysis (“Moxibustion for Primary Dysmenorrhea at Different Interventional Times”) concluded “moxibustion leads to higher total effective rate [in treating menstrual cramps] and lower level of PGF2α in serum” as compared to nonmoxibustion treatment. While there was no difference in intervention time, the researchers suggest treating the condition 5 ± 2 days before menstruation can achieve good efficacy.
Acupuncture and herbs outperformed painkillers like Aleve and Ibuprofen
A 2017 systemic review and meta-analysis (“Effects of acupoint-stimulation for the treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea compared with NSAIDs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 RCTs”) concluded the advantages of acu-point stimulation outweighed those of NSAIDs [e.g. Aleve, Ibuprofen]“. Advantages noted include alleviating the symptoms of dysmenorrhoea, reducing the level of peripheral blood PGF2α and fewer side effects than NSAIDs.
A 2016 systemic review and meta-analysis (“Herbal medicine (Danggui Shaoyao San) for treating primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”) found the Chinese herbal formula, “Dang Gui Shao Yao San,” was superior to analgesics and placebo in the treatment of menstrual cramps.
What is moxibustion?
A narrow definition declares moxibustion “the medical application of burning mugwort [an herb] floss on or over an acu-moxa point or an affected site.” (Wilcox, 1)
How does moxa relieve menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramps, in Chinese medicine, can be attributed to a number of differing patterns:
- qi stagnation
- blood stasis
- qi and blood deficiency
- liver and kidney deficiency
- accumulation of cold
Depending on the underlying pattern of disease, treatment can differ. But one of the most consistently used treatment modalities is moxibustion.
Moxibustion, or moxa, is a great choice for treatment as it has the ability to warm interior cold, stop pain, and both nourish and move qi and blood. Not only does it cover so many bases medicinally, but it’s also something that can be done at home.
How can I use moxa to treat my menstrual cramps?
3-7 days before your period, visit your acupuncturist for my favorite kind of moxa treatment: “warm needle.” This technique applies moxibustion to the handle of an acupuncture needle that is inserted into the body. The heat of the moxibustion is comfortably and slowly delivered through the needle, deep into the channels and body. It’s very comfortable and soothing for the patient. In my office I use higher grade Japanese smokeless moxa for this technique.
When I send patients home, I often recommend they use what are called “stick-on cones” of moxa. This is a type of moxibustion that can also be treated to render it smokeless. It’s typically then adjoined to paper or cardboard that has a sticker-like base. You simply peel off one of the ‘cones’ from the sheet, and adhere it to your skin. Your acupuncturist should show you where to use this on your body. This is great for self-treatment between acupuncture visits.
What herbs are in Dang Gui Shao Yan San?
- Dang gui, 10-40g
- Bai Shao, 10-20g
- Fu Ling, 10-25g
- Cang Zhu, 10-25g
- Ze Xie, 10-25g
- Chuan Xiong, 10-30g
Other herbs added depending on the formulation include Wu Yao, Xiang Fu, Yan Hu Suo, Gan Cao, Gui Zhi, Dang Shen and/or Yi Mu Cao among others.
Will my health insurance cover it?
In WA state, acupuncture is considered an essential health benefit. Moxibustion is often covered under the same or different billing code. Before you receive treatment, you’ll want to check with your particular plan to find out if they reimburse treatment for menstrual cramps (“Unspecified Dysmenorrhea, ICD10 Diagnosis Code N94.6”). Not all plans in WA state do; but there are a number of them that will. Need help finding out? Drop me a line with your info!
- Chao-qin Gou, Jing Gao, Chen-xi Wu, Ding-xi Bai, Hong-yuan Mou, Xiao-linHou and Xia Zhao. Moxibustion for Primary Dysmenorrhea at Different Interventional Times: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. 2016.
- Hye WonLeea, Ji HeeJunb, Ki-JungKilc, Byong-SeobKoa, Choong HwanLee and Myeong SooLeeb. Herbal medicine (Danggui Shaoyao San) for treating primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. 2016.
- Wilcox, Lorraine. Moxibustion: A Modern Clinical Handbook. 2009.
- Yang Xu, Wenli Zhao, Te Li, Huaien Bu, Zhimei Zhao, Ye Zhao and Shilin Song. Effects of acupoint-stimulation for the treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea compared with NSAIDs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 RCTs. 2017.