"This one is going to hurt," my acupuncturist said to me. That was the first time those words had ever come out of her mouth. "Take a deep inhale," she continued, not leaving me any time to respond, and as I exhaled, I felt a quick, sharp pain in the side of my foot, just under my big toe. I felt like cursing at her, but I instead bit my tongue and hoped this was worth the pain.
I had been getting treatments done twice a week for about two months when my acupuncturist stuck a needle in my foot for the first time. Her name was Seven (yep, that's her given, legal name; she's Native American), and she had just finished explaining that there were some meridians, or energy pathways, in the body that were strongly connected to the functioning of my reproductive organs.
I was skeptical at best, especially because I had been suffering from pretty severe PMS symptoms for quite some time and nothing really seemed to work. After suffering (and surviving) blood clots from the NuvaRing in 2010, my period over the next few years was extremely irregular and very painful. I spent the first day of my cycle curled up in bed, sometimes in tears, and no amount of ibuprofen could completely take away the discomfort.
Seven, who had been practicing acupuncture for more than a decade, was used to seeing patients who had a tough time with their periods. Traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat menstrual ailments, and it's believed that there are some serious energetic shifts in the body when you go through hormonal changes. This is often referred to as "liver qi congestion." This means the body's energy flow gets temporarily thrown out of whack, and acupuncture is known to help relieve those kinds of energetic blockages.
I certainly wasn't convinced yet, but I let Seven work her magic on me twice a week for the next four months. She focused a lot of her work on my lower back, around my kidneys, as well as my lower abdomen. The first time I experienced my period after working with her was definitely different than past ones. My menstrual cramps were less intense, and my breasts, surprisingly, were much less sore than usual. I was also less bloated and experienced less indigestion.
However, my period still showed up about 10 days late. When I told this to Seven, she perked her head to the side and said, "Next month, if your period doesn't show up on the scheduled day, text me and we'll do a session."
I did just that. When my next period didn't show up on time, I went to her house, and that's when she stuck a needle in my foot. The next day, my period showed up.
This may sound completely ludicrous, and perhaps even like a coincidence. But when my period was late again the following month, she jammed the needle once again into my foot, and my period came knocking the very next morning. I knew this was no accident.
My PMS symptoms were becoming easier and easier to handle with each passing month as well. There was one month when I didn't have to take any ibuprofen at all because my cramps were so light. Even my flow was less heavy than normal. I know there isn't much science proving that acupuncture can ease PMS symptoms, but I couldn't deny that it was really working for me.
I wasn't able to continue my sessions with Seven after several months, though, since I moved away. I noticed a difference in my period when my treatments ended. My flow and my cramps were heavier, I was more irritable, and I felt more bloated — I was pretty much back to where I started (until I adopted a plant-based diet, though). This led me to believe that the acupuncture really, truly had an impact on my menstrual cycle.
Of course, this is just my own experience. Acupuncture may not be as effective for other people, but it definitely doesn't hurt to try it out and see if it works for you. As always, speak to your doctor if you have any specific questions, as they'll be able to point you in the right direction.