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Copyright 2013 Natural Standard (
March 2012

Electroacupuncture May Reduce Pain in Dysmenorrhea Patients

Electroacupuncture applied to the Hegu and Sanyinjiao acupoints may reduce pain for young women with dysmenorrhea.

Dysmenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is severe and frequent menstrual cramping caused by severe and abnormal uterine contractions in women. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by another medical condition, such as endometriosis (abnormalities in the lining of the uterus), adenomyosis (nonmalignant growth of the endometrium into the muscular layer of the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, cervical narrowing, uterine malposition, pelvic tumors or an IUD (intra-uterine device).

In the 1930s, electric current was introduced to replace the manual maneuvering of the acupuncture needle. Electroacupuncture focuses on 80 (out of 365 in classical acupuncture) points, where nerves enter muscles. Some acupuncturists believe that electrical stimulation is better than needling for triggering the release of pain-relieving brain chemicals. An electrical stimulator is attached to an acupuncture needle placed at a traditional site. Each needle is inserted in a specific acupoint, usually 2 centimeters beneath the skin. Then the needles are connected to an electroacupuncture stimulator. The current is adjusted to what is considered the optimum, in which a slight twitching of the skin is visible around the needle. Current is delivered at variable frequencies.

In a new study, researchers randomly assigned 66 primary dysmenorrhea patients to one of two groups. The first group of 34 patients was assigned to receive electroacupuncture at middle-frequency at the Hegu and Sanyinjiao acupoints twice weekly for eight weeks. The second group received faux electroacupunture at non-acupounts. Pain scores were evaluated before and after treatment.

The researchers found that after eight weeks of treatment, the average pain scores and pain severity scores were significantly lower in the true electroacupuncture group when compared to the control group.

The authors concluded that electroacupuncture at the Hegu and Sanyinjiao acupoints may reduce pain for women with dysmenorrhea. Although promising, further research is necessary.

In addition to electroacupuncutre, preliminary evidence suggests that aromatherapy using oils of lavender, clary sage and rose may also help reduce menstrual pain. Additionally, there is initial research that suggests acupressure may reduce menstrual pain severity, pain medication use and anxiety associated with menstruation. Fennel has also been used to treat painful menstruation. Although preliminary research is promising, further research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.

For more information about integrative therapies for dysmenorrhea, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.

For more information about electroacupuncture, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.

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  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
  2. Wu LL, Su CH, Liu CF. Effects of Noninvasive Electroacupuncture at Hegu (LI4) and Sanyinjiao (SP6) Acupoints on Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Feb;18(2):137-42. View Abstract
The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright 2013 Natural Standard Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited.