Millions of women across Canada suffer from endometriosis – a condition where endometrial cells are found in locations outside of the uterus. For most women this means pain, sometimes debilitating, before and during their periods. For some it also means pain with intercourse, pain during ovulation, pain during bowel movements, back pain, abdominal pain, pain, pain, PAIN. Women with endometriosis often report such high, prolonged periods of pain that they lead to exhaustion, depression and anxiety.
So what is a woman with endometriosis to do? There is no cure, surgery is somewhat successful but has recurrence rates up to 74%, and hormone therapies can have terrible side effects.
It’s not surprising that many women are looking to acupuncture for pain relief, and many are finding it.
Endometriosis and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis is made based on symptoms and categorized based on eight principles (yin and yang, empty and full, etc). Two women, both experiencing endometriosis, may be diagnosed differently based on their symptoms – where and when pain occurs, colour and texture of menstrual blood, aggravating and relieving factors, and others. Naturopathic Doctors are trained in TCM diagnosis and will individualize acupuncture plans for their patient based on their unique symptoms and experience of endometriosis.
The most common TCM imbalances that are found in endometriosis are:
- Blood stasis
- Qi stagnation
- Spleen Qi deficiency
- Damp heat stagnation and stasis
- Kidney Yang deficiency
While these terms may sound unusual or exotic, they are just names for clusters of symptoms and provide guidance for the development of an acupuncture treatment plan.
Acupuncture for Pain
The main reason women with endometriosis seek out acupuncture is to help with pain management before or during their menstrual cycles, or during ovulation. Acupuncture has been recognized for it’s ability to manage different types of pain by organizations around the world, include the World Health Organization (WHO).
Acupuncture has many different positive effects on pain – it improves local and systemic blood flow, decreases inflammation, decreases stress, regulate the production of prostaglandins and promotes production of endorphins, substances which alter our perception to pain.
It is also a safe and painless procedure that can be used on the vast majority of women without any negative side effects.
Acupuncture for Fertility
Half of all women presenting at fertility clinics are diagnosed with varying degrees of endometriosis. For these women, treatment options are limited because of the potential negative outcomes on fertility that can result from hormonal treatments (and hysterectomy!)
The most common prescription for pain management with endometriosis is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These NSAIDs may provide some women with adequate pain relief, but others may continue to suffer. For women trying to conceive with endometriosis they pose an additional concern – NSAID use has been associated with luteinized unruptured follicle (LUF) syndrome – a condition where the follicle does not rupture to release an egg at ovulation. The pain management provided by acupuncture does not interfere with normal ovulation and can preserve fertility better than NSAID use.
Acupuncture also has it’s own benefits for improving fertility. It enhances blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, decreases stress and supports hormone balance. You can read more about the use of acupuncture for fertility in this article.
Naturopathic Doctors are licensed to provide acupuncture in Ontario under their ND license. The benefit of seeing an ND for your endometriosis is the holistic approach they take to health care. Your ND will individualize a treatment for specifically you that may include dietary recommendations, herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle modifications in addition to acupuncture. You can also learn more about the naturopathic approach to endometriosis in the articles The Endometriosis Diet, Endometriosis and the Immune System, Understanding Endometriosis and Endometriosis and Infertility, or if you are ready to get started today, you can book an initial consultation and start on your road to better health.
Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.
Lauersen, Niels H and Bouchez, Collette. Getting Pregnant. New York: Fireside, 2000.
Lewis, Randine. The Infertility Cure. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.
Acupuncture for pain in endometriosis. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews: Plain Language Summaries [Internet]. 2011.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.