top of page

Can Acupuncture Help Relieve PMS Symptoms?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects millions of women worldwide, often bringing about a range of uncomfortable symptoms that can disrupt daily life. While there are various treatments available, acupuncture stands out as a holistic approach that has gained popularity for its effectiveness in alleviating PMS symptoms in some. In this article, we delve into the science behind acupuncture and how it offers relief for those grappling with PMS.

Acupuncture needles are very thin
Acupuncture needles are very thin.

Understanding PMS

Before diving into the benefits of acupuncture, let's first understand what PMS entails. PMS refers to a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the days or weeks leading up to menstruation, the luteal phase. These symptoms can vary widely and may include mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, irritability, and headaches, among others. The exact cause of PMS is not fully understood, but hormonal fluctuations, neurotransmitter imbalances, and lifestyle factors are believed to play a role.

How Acupuncture Works According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that dates back thousands of years, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body. These points are located along lines called meridians which correspond to organs in the body. According to TCM theory, placing needles in the correct places stimulates the flow of Qi and other energetic substances. It is believed that disruptions in the flow of Qi leads to imbalances and health issues. By targeting specific acupuncture points, practitioners aim to restore harmony within the body and alleviate symptoms.

How Acupuncture Works According to Western Medicine

Western medicines explanation of acupuncture is a work in progress. We know from imaging studies that applying acupuncture needles has an effect on the nervous system. Acupuncture has direct effects on the tissues into which the needles are inserted. You can relax a tense muscle by inserting acupuncture needles into it. But more study is needed before we will really understand how acupuncture works from a western perspective.

Western medicine has some difficulty assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture and other physical therapies because there are no good placebo groups. "Sham" acupuncture often involves putting needles in nonsensical acupuncture points as a control group, but that still involves acupuncture and may still have some benefit. It's really hard to fake acupuncture and thus it is hard to study. Instead of a placebo group, comparing the acupuncture group to a group receiving usual care, an herbal treatment or a drug can make sense.

How Acupuncture Might Address PMS:

Acupuncture offers a multifaceted approach to managing PMS symptoms by targeting both physical and emotional aspects of the condition. Here's how acupuncture might help:

  1. Hormonal Effects: Acupuncture has been found in some studies to change levels of sex hormones, particularly estrogen. By modulating hormonal levels, acupuncture may help reduce symptoms like mood swings, irritability, and bloating.

  2. Pain Relief: Many women experience abdominal cramps and pelvic pain during PMS. Acupuncture can help alleviate pain. This is thought to occur by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and reducing inflammation in the pelvic region, but that explanation seems overly simplistic. Acupuncture is useful for many pain conditions.

  3. Stress Reduction: PMS often exacerbates stress and anxiety, making symptoms feel worse. Acupuncture has been shown to promote relaxation and stress relief. This can help ease emotional symptoms such as mood swings and irritability.

  4. Enhanced Mood and Wellbeing: By stimulating specific acupuncture points, practitioners can impact neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which play a crucial role in mood regulation. This can lead to improved mood and overall sense of wellbeing during the premenstrual period. Serotonin is a conventional treatment target for PMS. One first line drug therapy for PMS involves increasing serotonin to improve PMS symptoms.

Research and Evidence

Numerous studies of varying quality have investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture for PMS, with many reporting positive outcomes. It is important to keep in mind that these studies tend to be on the smaller side and there is the placebo problem mentioned above with acupuncture studies. But a number of the studies that we have, do show a statistically significant improvement in PMS symptoms. Additionally, while acupuncture does come with some risks, it was found to have few to no side effects in these studies.

Acupuncture is used to reduce PMS symptoms

The Take Away

For women seeking a natural path to PMS symptom relief, acupuncture offers a promising solution. By targeting hormonal levels, alleviating pain, reducing stress, and enhancing overall wellbeing, acupuncture can make the premenstrual period more manageable and comfortable.

How do I go About Trying Acupuncture for PMS

Acupuncture is not the first thing I try with my PMS patients. While acupuncture can be effective, it requires multiple sessions which cost patients time and money. I price acupuncture treatments as low as I can to make the cost burden lower, but $50 a session still adds up and the supplements are a lot cheaper. But if a patient prefers acupuncture, we try acupuncture because patient preference matters.

The number of sessions needed ranges from 7 to 28 sessions, depending on the study. With my acupuncture patients, we typically try a few sessions and see if they respond. If there is some symptom relief, we carry on until the patient is happy with that progress then taper down treatment session frequency. Two sessions each cycle, during the luteal phase, before symptoms start is often a good starting point.

If you think acupuncture might be for you and you would like to book an appointment to try it, you are welcome to book an appointment with me. There is a booking bottom on the home page.

Ko JH, Kim SN. A Literature Review of Women's Sex Hormone Changes by Acupuncture Treatment: Analysis of Human and Animal Studies. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 Nov 15;2018:3752723. doi: 10.1155/2018/3752723. PMID: 30581481; PMCID: PMC6276442.

Amorim D, Amado J, Brito I, Fiuza SM, Amorim N, Costeira C, Machado J. Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 May;31:31-37. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.01.008. Epub 2018 Jan 31. PMID: 29705474.

Karatay S, Okur SC, Uzkeser H, Yildirim K, Akcay F. Effects of Acupuncture Treatment on Fibromyalgia Symptoms, Serotonin, and Substance P Levels: A Randomized Sham and Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Pain Med. 2018 Mar 1;19(3):615-628. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnx263. PMID: 29220534.

Armour M, Ee CC, Hao J, Wilson TM, Yao SS, Smith CA. Acupuncture and acupressure for premenstrual syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Aug 14;8(8):CD005290. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005290.pub2. PMID: 30105749; PMCID: PMC6513602.

Jang SH, Kim DI, Choi MS. Effects and treatment methods of acupuncture and herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder: systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Jan 10;14:11. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-11. PMID: 24410911; PMCID: PMC3898234.


bottom of page