Many women are taught to accept their menstrual pain, or ovulation pain, or even pain during sex, as an inevitability. Many are taught not to complain about it because it’s just part of the curse of being a woman.
I know because I was one of them.
Nonetheless, feeling like you're being stabbed, keeling over or fainting from cramps, or having to lock yourself away from the world for a day or two each month is enough to drive any strong, sane woman crazy.
Some of the most common causes of these issues are fibroids (benign, but still bothersome, masses in the uterus), ovarian cysts (usually benign and fluid filled masses), and/or endometriosis (the growth of uterine lining outside of the uterus).
These conditions most often involve some combination of hormonal and endocrine imbalance on a systemic level, reduced blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, and possibly even autoimmune factors.
The most common treatment used for these complex conditions, however, is simply hormonal birth control. While hormonal medication works for some with these conditions, it definitely does not work for all. The problem is it does nothing to correct any of the other issues that may be happening or even causing the symptoms.
Sometimes the strategy with very painful periods is to use the hormonal medication to completely stop the period and avoid the pain altogether, but this further disrupts hormonal regulation and blood flow in the uterus.
The other, obviously more extreme option, is surgery. Depending on where and how advanced the condition is, surgery may definitely be necessary, but the problem once again is, it acts only as a bandaid. Surgery creates scar tissue, which further inhibits circulation, and does nothing to actually correct the root of the problem.
This is why many women who get surgery continue to see these growths return, sometimes in just a few months after the surgery they thought would cure them. If this continues, it is either seen as unavoidable, or depending on severity, sadly the final recommendation may even be a hysterectomy - total removal of the uterus.
What's perhaps even more mind boggling are the women who are told they have “nothing” wrong with them. The cause of their pain is unknown. You could try throwing some hormones at them, but once again, many won’t respond.
I know because I was one of them.
I started my period at 13 years old, and for 10 years I had long cycles, sometimes as much as 6 months apart, followed by long, heavy, and painful periods.
Everyone I asked, doctors included, agreed that it can take several years for a women’s menstrual cycle to regulate. My long and painful cycles didn’t necessarily imply anything pathological was going on. So, I got used to popping ibuprofen and dealing with what I considered to be a womanly necessity.
When I finally asked my gynecologist to investigate the source of my pain at age 19, but nothing was found, she used the only tool in her toolkit, the pill.
I’ll spare you the details, but hormonal medication did not agree with me. I tried several different kinds, two of which are low dose and therefore supposedly low side effect, but even the lowest dose of hormonal contraceptives made me remarkably irritable and emotional.
After several years of trying to stick it out, in hopes it would eventual work, I finally gave up on the one option that had been given to me. I continued getting regular exams, but no longer complained to my doctor about my pain. I’d come to except it was here to stay, it became my "normal."
Luckily, and by chance, I found Chinese medicine.
I had just graduated from undergrad in Biology, I had an interest in herbal medicine, but knew little about acupuncture. I enrolled in grad school for Chinese medicine to try it out and see if it was right for me.
Going into school, I honestly didn’t even think there was anything wrong with me. Sure I was under the most stress I'd ever experienced, I had a stomachache all the time, my cycle was completely erratic, and I was constantly emotionally on edge, but I didn’t consider any of those to be issues to go to the doctor for.
I went in for acupuncture simply to try what it was like. It wasn’t until detailed questions about how my body was working revealed that things weren’t functioning quite right. This was the first time in my life, at the age of 23, that I was hearing my period didn’t inherently need to be painful or irregular. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
I can't tell you how truly life changing that revelation was. It gave me hope and it completely changed the experience of menstruating for me, which is something I grew to celebrate and feel gratitude for rather than dread and curse my body over.
It also started me down my path to discover my passion to share this experience with other women, to educate them on the options they have outside of Western medicine so they can make informed and empowered decisions about their health and their bodies.
I'm so grateful to be able to witness women transform their cycles, their bodies, and how they feel about themselves. It's truly inspiring and occasionally makes my heart feel like its going to burst with joy.
The more I practice the more I understand why Chinese medicine works so well. Women are experiencing all kinds of pain, both physical and emotional. They are reliving all kinds of trauma. It's not always in the most obvious way. It's not always logical. Sometimes the pain shows up as menstrual cramps instead of tears, sometimes both.
Healing must happen on a much deeper level if it's meant to stick. You cannot simply slice those emotions away or swallow them down in a pill and expect to never see them again. Instead, the mind and spirit must be healed along with the body, a holistic approach which is embraced by Chinese medicine.
If you believe you and your cycle may benefit from Chinese medicine, I encourage you to find someone in your area who is trained in women’s health and who you feel comfortable working with longterm. Keep in mind that some conditions, depending on how chronic or severe, may take months to heal, but putting that work into your health can be a truly transformative experience.