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Acupuncture for PMS and Period Cramps: Pain Management

Today, we explore acupuncture for managing Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Many women experience PMS, characterized by a wide range of symptoms from emotional swings and irritability to physical pains like cramps and bloating. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture stands out as a holistic approach to rebalancing the body’s energies, specifically aimed at alleviating these symptoms. By inserting fine needles at precise points along the body’s meridians, acupuncture works to restore the smooth flow of Qi (energy), addressing the root causes of PMS rather than just the symptoms. In my clinic here in Auckland, New Zealand, I encounter numerous clients grappling with these monthly disruptions, and through personalized acupuncture treatments and yoga, I help them find much-needed relief and balance. Join me as we explore how this ancient practice can help you with PMS.

Table of Contents

What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to a set of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that typically occur in the days leading up to a woman’s menstrual period. These symptoms usually manifest during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which is the period after ovulation and before the start of menstruation. PMS is a common condition, affecting a significant percentage of menstruating women.

Symptoms of PMS

The symptoms of PMS can vary significantly from person to person in both type and severity but generally include a mix of emotional, physical, and cognitive effects:

  • Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms: These may include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. Many women also report feeling particularly tense or tearful in the days leading up to their period.
  • Physical Symptoms: Common physical symptoms include bloating, pain, cramps, breast tenderness, headaches, and fatigue. Some women also experience muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite or food cravings.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Difficulty concentrating and memory lapses are also frequently reported during this phase of the cycle.

PMS According to Western Medicine

In Western medicine, PMS is understood primarily as a hormonal condition linked to the cyclical fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone in the lead-up to menstruation. These hormonal changes are believed to affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain, such as serotonin, which plays a role in mood regulation. The severity and types of symptoms can be influenced by lifestyle factors, including diet, exercise, and stress levels. Treatment approaches in Western medicine typically focus on symptom management through lifestyle modifications, pharmacological interventions such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), hormonal contraceptives, and psychological support. For more information on the western medicine perspective visit here 

Causes of PMS According to Chinese Medicine: Focus on Liver Qi Stagnation

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is primarily seen as a manifestation of Liver Qi Stagnation or Depression. The liver, in TCM, is crucial for the smooth flow of Qi (energy) and blood throughout the body. When the liver’s function is disrupted, it can lead to a variety of emotional and physical symptoms commonly associated with PMS. Here are the key factors that contribute to Liver Qi Stagnation, which TCM identifies as the main cause of PMS:

  1. Unfulfilled Desires: In TCM, the liver is connected to the emotional and planning aspects of our lives. It is believed that moving towards what we desire or away from what we dislike is essential for the smooth flow of Qi. If desires remain unfulfilled, the Qi can become obstructed, leading to stagnation. This stagnation not only affects emotional well-being but also disrupts physical health, manifesting as symptoms of PMS.
  2. Explosive Anger: Anger management is crucial in TCM as the liver is directly affected by emotional extremes. Expressing anger explosively can overcharge the liver, subsequently causing it to become depressed and stagnant. This example highlights the TCM belief that managing emotions is essential for maintaining liver health and, by extension, reducing PMS symptoms.
  3. Blood Vacuity: The liver stores and regulates blood within the body. During menstruation, significant amounts of blood are directed away from the liver to the uterus. If the body does not have sufficient blood to compensate, the liver can become deprived, leading to what TCM describes as ‘blood vacuity’. This state is considered a fundamental cause of PMS, affecting both the emotional and physical spheres.
  4. Yin Vacuity: The liver requires sufficient Yin – the cooling and moistening forces within the body – to function properly. A deficiency in Yin can lead to an imbalance, causing the liver to become overheated and exacerbating Qi stagnation. This is another pathway through which the typical symptoms of PMS might develop.
  5. Yang Vacuity: Proper liver function also depends on adequate Yang, which provides the necessary warmth and activity. Yang vacuity, often linked to kidney deficiency, can impair the liver’s ability to ensure the smooth flow of Qi, further contributing to the symptoms of PMS.
  6. Material Depressions: TCM identifies various material depressions, such as Qi, blood, dampness, phlegm, food, and heat, which can physically obstruct the liver’s qi’s function. These material factors are crucial in understanding how bodily imbalances can lead to Qi stagnation and PMS.
  7. Pathogenic Factors: Both internal and external ‘evil Qi’, or pathogenic factors, can disrupt the liver’s function. Internal factors might include emotional stress or dietary imbalances, while external factors could be environmental or climatic influences.

Addressing Liver Qi Stagnation through TCM involves a holistic approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle changes to manage stress and emotional well-being. This comprehensive treatment strategy aims to restore the free flow of Qi, alleviate PMS symptoms, and improve overall health.

Treatment of PMS with Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) involves a variety of methods tailored to address the specific imbalances causing symptoms. The most effective treatments for PMS in TCM include herbal medicine, acupuncture, and Tuina massage. Other supportive therapies such as cupping and moxibustion may also be used depending on individual cases. The primary goal of these treatments is to move and regulate Qi to disperse stagnation, and then, based on individual assessments, to address the underlying causes of the stagnation. It is important to note that treatments in TCM are highly individualized; there is no “one size fits all” solution.

Acupuncture for PMS

  • Regulates Hormonal Balance: Acupuncture points are selected to influence the hormonal systems, helping to regulate estrogen and progesterone levels, which can mitigate many PMS symptoms.
  • Improves Circulation: By stimulating specific points, acupuncture enhances qi and blood flow, which can alleviate stagnation-related symptoms like cramps and breast tenderness.
  • Stress Reduction: Acupuncture is known to reduce stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate PMS symptoms, by promoting relaxation and reducing cortisol levels.

Herbal Medicine for PMS

  • Custom Formulas: Herbal blends are tailored to the individual’s specific symptoms and constitution, addressing not only the symptoms but also the root causes of PMS.
  • Liver Qi Regulation: Many herbal formulas focus on supporting liver health and ensuring the free flow of liver Qi to prevent emotional and physical symptoms associated with PMS. Common herbal formulars that are used are Xaio Yao San, Dan Zhi Xia Yao San, Si Ni San to name a few.
  • Blood and Yin Nourishment: Herbs may also be used to nourish the blood and Yin, ensuring adequate hydration and nutrient supply to body tissues, vital for overall hormonal balance.

Tuina Massage for PMS

  • Enhances Qi Flow: Tuina techniques are applied to acupuncture points and meridians to help facilitate the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body.
  • Alleviates Muscle Tension: This form of massage can be particularly effective in relieving muscle stiffness and pain, common physical symptoms of PMS.
  • Supports Emotional Release: Through gentle manipulation, Tuina can also aid in releasing emotional tension, further contributing to relief from PMS symptoms.


  • Direct Heat Application: Moxibustion involves burning dried mugwort on or near the skin at acupuncture points, introducing warmth and energy which can help in cases where cold or dampness contributes to symptom severity.
  • Boosts Vital Energy: The heat from moxibustion is believed to penetrate deeply into the body, stimulating yang, qi and blood flow, which helps in balancing internal conditions.

Cupping for PMS

  • Relieves Stagnation: Cupping is particularly useful for dispersing Qi stagnation, a common issue in PMS, helping to relieve pain and tension in the body.

These TCM therapies are often used in combination, depending on the individual’s symptoms and underlying TCM diagnosis. By addressing both the symptoms and the root causes of PMS, Chinese medicine aims to restore harmony and balance to the body, promoting overall health and well-being. Each treatment plan is uniquely designed for the patient’s specific needs, reflecting the holistic and individualized approach of TCM.

Timing Treatments with the Menstrual Cycle in Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is crucial to align treatment strategies with the menstrual cycle’s phases to achieve optimal therapeutic effects, especially for conditions like Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Administering treatments at specific times can significantly enhance their efficacy, offering relief that’s closely tailored to the physiological changes occurring in the body. The best time for treatment is in the luteal phase day 15 to 28 especially in the week before menstruation starts Premenstrual Phase (Days 21-28) 

  • Nature: This phase is strongly linked to Qi, specifically focusing on liver Qi. TCM holds that liver Qi depression or stagnation is crucial for the occurrence of PMS, as all related symptoms stem from some level of Qi disruption.
  • Treatment Focus: The goal during the premenstrual phase is to ensure the smooth flow of liver Qi. Managing liver Qi effectively is essential for alleviating common PMS symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, and bloating. It has been found that increasing the frequency of acupuncture treatments during this phase, rather than adhering to a standard weekly schedule, can be much more effective. More regular treatments help to relieve Qi stagnation and promote emotional balance more consistently, potentially greatly reducing or even eliminating the discomfort associated with PMS.

By integrating more frequent treatments during the premenstrual phase, TCM leverages the natural rhythms of the body to enhance overall health and well-being. This approach demonstrates the holistic and integrated methods employed by this ancient medical system, providing a potent alternative to conventional treatments.

Acupuncture for pms Auckland New Zealand

Yoga for PMS: A Holistic Approach

Yoga, much like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), offers a holistic approach to health, addressing the body, energy, and mind. Various traditional styles of yoga are intricately linked to different traditional medical systems, providing a broad range of therapeutic benefits particularly beneficial for managing Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). For those particularly affected by PMS, learning and practicing the three preliminary practices of Yantra Yoga can be highly beneficial. These practices are concise yet potent in removing energy stagnation, making them ideal for those seeking effective and efficient relief from PMS symptoms.

Traditional Yoga and Its Connections to Medicine:

  • Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda: Hatha Yoga, one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga in the West, is deeply connected to Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system. This style of yoga emphasizes physical postures (asanas) and controlled breathing (pranayama), which help in balancing the doshas (body types) and clearing physical and energetic blockages that contribute to PMS.
  • Yantra Yoga and Tibetan Medicine: Yantra Yoga, the Tibetan Yoga of Movement, corresponds to Tibetan medicine principles. It focuses on movements that enhance bodily functions and energy flow. The practice of Yantra Yoga includes specific sequences that are especially effective in removing energy stagnation and promoting a balance that can alleviate PMS symptoms.
  • Taoist Yoga (Yin Yoga) and Chinese Medicine: Yin Yoga, inspired by Taoist principles, aligns closely with Chinese medicine. It emphasizes passive holds that target the body’s deeper tissues, meridians, and energy pathways, helping to release both physical and emotional tension.

Creating Personalized Yoga Therapy Plans for PMS

To effectively address PMS symptoms, personalized yoga therapy plans can be tremendously beneficial. These plans are tailored to target the underlying causes of symptoms, guided by the insights from the corresponding traditional medical systems. Here’s how different elements of yoga can work together to alleviate PMS:

  • Physical Postures and Movements: By engaging in specific yoga asanas, we work directly with the physical body to alleviate stagnation, tension, and pain that are often pronounced during the premenstrual phase. Poses that focus on the pelvic area can be particularly helpful in easing menstrual cramps and bloating.
  • Breathing Techniques: Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, are employed to manage the energy and emotional landscape. Breathing deeply and consciously helps to calm the mind and can significantly reduce the emotional and psychological symptoms of PMS, such as irritability and anxiety.
  • Concentration and Mindfulness: Incorporating mindfulness and concentration practices helps to stabilize the mind and reduces the mental fog and mood swings often associated with PMS. Focused practices also enhance overall well-being and stress management.

Important Considerations for Yoga Practice

Effective Tips for Natural PMS Relief

Dietary Adjustments:

  • Ayurvedic Diet: Tailor your food choices to your Ayurvedic constitution. Eating according to your body type (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) can help balance your system and alleviate PMS symptoms addressing the underlying causes of stagnation. Include foods that enhance digestion and reduce bloating.


Lifestyle and Timing:

  • Cycle Awareness: Adjust your lifestyle according to your menstrual cycle. Be proactive about managing symptoms by recognizing the premenstrual phase and adjusting your activities and stress levels accordingly.


Herbal Remedies: Use herbs that align with your specific constitution and the patterns of your symptoms. Consulting with a Chinese medicine practitioner can help you choose the most effective herbs.


Yoga and Breathing Exercises:

  • Yoga Movements: Engage in yoga poses that help regulate energy and remove stagnation. Focus on poses that alleviate menstrual discomfort, such as gentle twists and forward folds. The three preliminary practices of Yantra Yoga the Tibetan yoga of movement are excellent.
  • Breathing Techniques: Practice pranayama (breathing exercises) to help regulate hormonal balance and calm the mind. Techniques like complete breathing or Anulom Vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing) can be particularly beneficial.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Incorporate meditation into your daily routine to help manage emotional fluctuations and stress associated with PMS.


Self-Massage and Acupressure:

  • Key Acupressure Points: Massage points such as LI4 (Hand), LV3 (Foot), and LV14 (Chest) to help alleviate pain and improve energy flow. Also, focus on massaging along the liver and spleen meridians, particularly at any painful points on the legs.


Conclusion: By integrating these holistic practices into your routine, you can better manage PMS symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Remember, it’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals when making significant changes to your health regimen.


Thank you for joining me on this exploration of how acupuncture and yoga, grounded in the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine, can provide effective relief for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Understanding and treating the underlying causes of PMS, such as Liver Qi Stagnation, with holistic practices like acupuncture, herbal medicine, and tailored yoga, allows for a deeply personalized therapeutic experience that addresses not just the symptoms but the root of the discomfort.

If you or someone you know is struggling with PMS and looking for natural, effective relief, I invite you to consider exploring these time-tested methods. Whether it’s through personalized acupuncture sessions, a custom herbal medicine regimen, or a tailored yoga plan, the potential for improved well-being and balance is significant. Reach out to schedule a consultation, or join one of our specialized yoga classes specifically designed for women dealing with PMS. Let us help you restore harmony and enhance your health in a natural, nurturing way.

Take the first step towards a more balanced life today. Contact us to discover how these ancient practices can be adapted to meet your unique health needs and start your journey to better menstrual health and overall well-being.

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Dean Wickenden

Dean, holding a Bachelor of Health Science, is registered in Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and Tuina Massage with the Chinese Medicine Council of New Zealand. With over 20 years of experience in yoga, he has earned a 1200-hour diploma in yoga and is a certified instructor of Yantra Yoga and the Tibetan Yoga of Movement.

Committed to natural health and healing, Dean takes a holistic approach in his practice, incorporating a wide range of therapeutic methods. His offerings include acupuncture, massage, dietary advice, myofascial release, herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, qigong, yoga, and meditation. He practices from his clinic in Auckland, New Zealand, dedicated to providing comprehensive care tailored to the individual needs of his clients