Research from Australia and New Zealand has found that acupuncture significantly reduces period pain intensity, duration, and symptoms over time, with improvements being sustained up to a year after treatment.
Primary dysmenorrhea (period pain) is the most common gynecological complaint in menstruating women, with up to four in five women suffering at some stage during their reproductive years.
The study involved 74 women between the ages of 18 and 45 with suspected or confirmed primary dysmenorrhea and no known cause of secondary dysmenorrhea from Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand.
Over half the women receiving acupuncture had a least a 50 percent reduction in their severity of period pain over the three months of treatment.
The study, published in the international journal PLOS ONE, also shows a connection between both the treatment timing and frequency, with high frequency of treatment providing greater improvements in health-related quality of life, such as vitality, social function, and bodily pain.
A reduction in pain relief medication when using manual acupuncture compared to electro-acupuncture was also found.
Women in the trial kept a menstrual diary and were given individualized acupuncture treatments after being randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups: High frequency manual acupuncture, low frequency manual acupuncture, high frequency electro acupuncture and low frequency electro acupuncture.
Twelve treatments were performed over three menstrual cycles, either once a week (low frequency groups) or three times in the week prior to their period (high frequency groups). All groups received a treatment in the first 48 hours of their period.
According to Dr. Mike Armour, a postdoctoral research fellow with the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) in Australia, who led the study, the results are promising. Further larger trials may lead to the development of evidence-based guidelines for acupuncture in the treatment of period pain and its associated symptoms, he added.
“Pragmatic trials of acupuncture have shown a reduction in pain intensity and an improvement in quality of life in women with period pain, however evidence has been limited for how changing the ‘dosage’ of acupuncture might affect the outcome,” he said.
“Our pilot study found that using manual stimulation of the needles, rather than an electrical pulse, commonly used in many Chinese studies for period pain, resulted in reduced need for pain-relieving medication and improvement in secondary symptoms, such as headaches and nausea,” he explained. “The latter was unexpected and will be explored further in future, larger trials.”