Menstrual cramps according to Chinese Medicine

dysmenorrhea, painful period, dysmenorrhoea and painful periods redirect here

Menstrual cramps can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like menstrual cramps here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here menstrual cramps is often associated with scanty periods, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood in the pattern “Blood Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause menstrual cramps.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of menstrual cramps we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat menstrual cramps.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause menstrual cramps

In Chinese Medicine menstrual cramps is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a formula used for Blood Stagnation

Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Firm (Lao), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Reddish-Purple

Blood Stagnation, like the name indicates, is when Blood flow becomes Stagnant. It can happen in the whole body or in specific Organs. It is one of the most important diagnostic conditions in Chinese Medicine because it is frequently the cause of intractable pain syndromes anywhere in the body.

In addition to menstrual cramps, other symptoms associated with Blood Stagnation include scanty periods, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Scanty Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Blood Stagnation is often treated with Tao He Cheng Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Tao He Cheng Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dispels Heat and".

Read more about Blood Stagnation here

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a formula used for Qi And Blood Stagnation

Qi And Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Fine (Xi)

In addition to menstrual cramps, other symptoms associated with Qi And Blood Stagnation include scanty periods, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi And Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi And Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Qi And Blood Stagnation here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

When Liver Qi does not flow smoothly or regularly, it becomes Stagnant and in Excess. This leads to Heat accumulating in the Liver. The feeling of ‘Distension’ (zhang 胀) is the main symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation.

In addition to menstrual cramps, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation include scanty periods, abdominal pain and lower abdominal pain.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Mastitis or Breast Engorgement.

Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation here

The Pericardium is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Pericardium in Chinese Medicine

Pericardium Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Knotted (Jie), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

In addition to menstrual cramps, other symptoms associated with Pericardium Blood Stagnation include dark clots in menstrual blood, chest pain and palpitations.

Pericardium Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Pericardium Blood Stagnation here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple sides

Liver Blood Stagnation usually develops from Qi Stagnation, Cold and Heat. It has great influence over the Directing and Penetrating Vessels and thus the menstruation functions.

In addition to menstrual cramps, other symptoms associated with Liver Blood Stagnation include abdominal pain, dark clots in menstrual blood and irregular menstruation.

Liver Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Liver Blood Stagnation here

Five herbal formulas that might help with menstrual cramps

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

Why might Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with menstrual cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Stagnation' of which painful period is a symptom.

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with menstrual cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi And Blood Stagnation' of which menstrual cramps is a symptom.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with menstrual cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation' of which menstrual cramps is a symptom.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with menstrual cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Pericardium Blood Stagnation' of which painful period is a symptom.

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Why might Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang help with menstrual cramps?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Blood Stagnation' of which painful period is a symptom.

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for menstrual cramps

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat menstrual cramps

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with menstrual cramps?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat menstrual cramps as a symptom, like Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang or Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with menstrual cramps?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat menstrual cramps as a symptom, like Tiao Gan Tang or Si Wu Tang for instance.

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with menstrual cramps?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat menstrual cramps as a symptom, like Da Ying Jian or Tao He Cheng Qi Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with menstrual cramps?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat menstrual cramps as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Da Ying Jian for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Peach Kernel (Tao Ren) help with menstrual cramps?

Because Peach Kernel is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat menstrual cramps as a symptom, like Tao He Cheng Qi Tang or Tao Hong Si Wu Tang for instance.

Peach Kernels is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Large intestine and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood and breaks up Stasis. Moistens the Intestines. Relieves coughing.

Read more about Peach Kernels here