Acupuncture received a nod from the New England Journal of Medicine recently, citing research showing that acupuncture treatment is linked with a decrease in symptoms due to endometriosis. This condition can be frustrating to patients and practitioners, because available treatments tend to be invasive, only partially effective, or have unwanted side effects.
What Endometriosis Means
Endometriosis is a condition where the normal uterine lining (endometrium) begins to grow outside of the uterus. The uterine lining is the tissue that grows and sheds during each menstrual cycle, but this normal process becomes problematic when the tissue is growing outside of the uterus. The endometrium continues to respond to hormonal fluctuations during the cycle, and when a woman has her period, the blood that would normally leave the body becomes trapped. This commonly causes severe menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and may cause difficulties with fertility. It is a very common condition, effecting 6-10% of women of reproductive age, and up to 50% of women with infertility.
Western Medical Treatment
Women diagnosed with endometriosis are most commonly treated with painkillers to reduce pain symptoms and oral contraceptives (birth control pills) to reduce the severity of pain and heaviness of bleeding. When these treatments fail to provide relief, or have unacceptable side effects, more invasive procedures may be used, such as ablation, or removal of excess tissue. According to Western medical treatment, the only cure for endometriosis is hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus.
Acupuncture for Endometriosis
According to Eastern medical theories, endometriosis is considered an issue of improper blood circulation, or blood stasis. Treatment is focused on increasing blood circulation, and guiding these effects to the uterus, lower abdomen, and any other affected area.
Spleen 6 is an acupuncture point on the lower leg that is commonly used to increase blood circulation to the uterus and to treat menstrual pain. This point is also useful as an acupressure point to treat yourself, and a point that I often use during a shiatsu session. Spleen 6 is located a hand’s width (without the thumb) above the medial malleolus, or the inside ankle bone.
Another common point for any issue affecting the uterus is called Zigong, or “palace of the child”. It is located on the lower abdomen, one thumb’s width above the pubic bone, and one hand’s width to either side of the midline. Zigong is used to promote circulation to the uterus, regulate uterine bleeding, and to prepare for conception. Just like Spleen 6, this point can be used in self-massage, and responds well to warming treatment, such as moxibustion or the application of oils that promote circulation, such as Dang Gui, or Angelica, essential oil.
What to Expect
Acupuncture treatment can significantly decrease the severity of endometriosis and its symptoms for most patients. Effects are cumulative, so longer term treatment is associated with greater improvement. Most patients report less pain after four weekly treatments, but changes in menstrual cycle regularity or fertility may require several months of regular acupuncture.