Period pain is something women have been enduring on a monthly basis presumably since the dawn of time. Lucky us, right?
But despite the fact it affects so many women (an estimated nine out of ten), treatments haven't really progressed further than pain medication or the contraceptive pill..
However, in exciting news for menstruating women everywhere, a new study has revealed acupuncture treatment significantly reduces the intensity and duration of period pain, including symptoms such as bloating, headaches and nausea. Better yet, these improvements were sustained for up to a year after treatment.
Led by Dr Mike Armour, a postdoctoral research fellow from Western Sydney University's NICM, the randomised controlled trial involved involved 74 women aged 18-45 years who regularly experience period pain. (While yes, it is worth noting this is a fairly small trial, a much larger study in Germany has previously concluded much the same thing.)
Each participant received three months of personalised treatment including diet and lifestyle advice.
"We wanted to deliver the same kind of package of care a woman would experience in a community type setting, and that included acupuncture, diet and lifestyle advice and moxibustion (heat therapy), which is also commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine," Armour told HuffPost Australia.
Women have normalised their pain and other symptoms. But [severe period pain] is not normal and not something they need to suffer.Dr Mike Armour
"What we found was the women, in general, had significant pain reduction across the three months of treatment. But what was really important for us was that the reductions were maintained for a long time afterwards, for up to a year.
"So it wasn't just solely symptomatic relief."
Two types of acupuncture were used in the study -- manual acupuncture and electro-acupuncture -- and, in a surprising twist, the manual acupuncture proved to have better results, with more than half the women experiencing at least a 50 per cent reduction in their severity of period pain.
"That was definitely unexpected," Armour said. "We thought it was actually going to be the electro-acupuncture that would have had better results, but that wasn't the case."
The other surprising result that came out of the study was the lessening of secondary symptoms.
"A lot of the symptoms which are classified as PMS, so breast tenderness, emotional changes, bloating, headaches... we saw improvements in those too," he said. "We followed up these other symptoms as well as the pain over 12 months, and they also seemed to stay reduced as well."
Armour initially became interested in this area of study due to the experiences of his wife.
"She had quite severe period pain so we went to a GP, and he was very good, and suggested taking painkilling medications or putting her on the pill. She tried both of those things and unfortunately neither were successful," Armour said.
"But I was quite surprised, once we had worked through those options, we didn't have another tool in the toolkit to try."
Armour went on to study acupuncture and found many of the women coming into the clinic would deny they had abnormal periods, but when asked to elaborate, their symptoms were actually problematic and painful.
"Women have normalised their pain and other symptoms," Armour said. "But [severe period pain] is not normal and not something they need to suffer with. The most shocking thing for me, out of the whole process of research I've done, is that women have normalised it so much. It's not."
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