Painful menstruations according to Chinese Medicine

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Painful menstruations 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 painful menstruations 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 painful menstruations is often associated with abdominal pain, dark clots in menstrual blood and scanty periods in the pattern “Blood Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause painful menstruations.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of painful menstruations 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 painful menstruations.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause painful menstruations

In Chinese Medicine painful menstruations 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 painful menstruations, other symptoms associated with Blood Stagnation include abdominal pain, dark clots in menstrual blood and scanty periods.

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

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Red sides

Qi Stagnation refers to Qi becoming stuck or stagnant, a bit like a traffic jam on the freeway. This restricted flow of Qi can be body-wide or happen in any specific Organ.

In addition to painful menstruations, other symptoms associated with Qi Stagnation include irregular menstruation, abdominal pain and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation.

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 Qi 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 painful menstruations, other symptoms associated with Liver Blood Stagnation include irregular menstruation, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood.

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

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Wen Jing Tang, a formula used for Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Soggy (Ru)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

There are two types of cold patterns: Full Cold or Empty Cold. Full cold refers to actual Cold Evil invading the Uterus and Dampness Stagnation often come along with this Full pattern. Empty cold is the result of Yang Deficiency, especially the Spleen and Kidney Yang.

In addition to painful menstruations, other symptoms associated with Cold in the Uterus include amenorrhea, irregular menstruation and abdominal pain.

Cold in the Uterus is often treated with Wen Jing Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Wen Jing 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: "Warms the Uterus and vessels".

Read more about Cold in the Uterus here

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Wen Jing Tang, a formula used for Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Tight (Jin)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple, Pale

In addition to painful menstruations, other symptoms associated with Cold in the Uterus include dark clots in menstrual blood, scanty periods and lower abdominal pain.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Cold in the Uterus is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Late Menstruation.

Cold in the Uterus is often treated with Wen Jing Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Wen Jing 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: "Warms the Uterus and vessels".

Read more about Cold in the Uterus here

Five herbal formulas that might help with painful menstruations

Tao He Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dispels Heat and. Eliminates Blood Stagnation.

Why might Tao He Cheng Qi Tang help with painful menstruations?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Scanty Menstruation.

Read more about Tao He Cheng Qi Tang 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 painful menstruations?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Late Menstruation.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Da Ying Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Expels Cold.

Why might Da Ying Jian help with painful menstruations?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold in the Uterus' of which painful menstruations is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Cold in the Uterus can contribute to many health issues, including Late Menstruation.

Read more about Da Ying Jian 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 painful menstruations?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Blood Stagnation include irregular menstruation, abdominal pain and dark clots in menstrual blood.

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang here

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 painful menstruations?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold in the Uterus' of which painful menstruations is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Cold In The Uterus include amenorrhea, irregular menstruation and abdominal pain.

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Acupuncture points used for painful menstruations

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat painful menstruations

Why might Peach Kernel (Tao Ren) help with painful menstruations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat painful menstruations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat painful menstruations as a symptom (such as Tao He Cheng Qi 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

Why might Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) help with painful menstruations?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat painful menstruations and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat painful menstruations as a symptom (such as Tao He Cheng Qi Tang for instance).

Cinnamon Twigs is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Adjusts the nutritive Ying and defensive Wei Qi. Relieves the Exterior through sweating. Warms and disperses Cold. Removes obstruction of Yang. Promotes the circulation of Yang Qi in the chest. Regulates and moves blood.

Read more about Cinnamon Twigs here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with painful menstruations?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat painful menstruations 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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with painful menstruations?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat painful menstruations 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 Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with painful menstruations?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat painful menstruations as a symptom, like Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang or Shao Fu 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