Understanding your menstrual cycle
The chart below shows an optimum cycle of 28 days. A cycle length of 26-32 days when regular is perfectly normal. It is also normal for the occasional disruption to the cycle due to illness or stress. (i.e. the cycle may lengthen or shorten by a few days). A cycle that is always irregular suggests a problem as does pain, emotional disturbances, spotting and anything other than a smooth fresh bleed.
The acupuncturist will treat according to your TCM diagnosis but modifications are made depending on which part of the cycle you are in. The ‘nutritive’ Yin phase or follicular phase is all about egg development and preparation of the womb lining. The ‘active’ Yang or luteal phase is about the egg release and maintaining progesterone levels.
Sometimes treatment will be carefully timed to coincide with the part of the cycle that needs attention.
Menstruation (Days 1-7)
This is the time of the cycle when the body sheds the old endometrium in order for a new nutrient rich lining to form. The bleed should be fresh red in colour with a smooth flow which lasts ideally between 3-5 days.
Common problems during this phase include: pain (before, during or after), stop-start bleeding sometimes starting or finishing with brown discharge, small or large clots, a bleed which is watery or foul smelling, very heavy or scanty bleeding which may be prolonged, tiredness, low back ache, night sweating, sweaty palms and feet.
Acupuncture treatment during this phase includes encouraging the smooth flow of blood, improving egg quality and encouraging the development of the new endometrium.
Post menstruation (Days 7-14)
As well as the new endometrium forming, competing follicles are developing. Towards midcycle, there is a spike of LH (Lutenising hormone) which facilitates the release of an egg from the dominant follicle. As ovulation approaches, women will notice an increase of cervical mucus which thickens to an ‘egg white’ consistancy at ovulation.
Problems during this phase include: pain during ovulation, lack of cervical mucus, delayed/early ovulation, mid-cycle spotting. Acupuncture treatment during this phase includes: improving egg quality and encouraging ovulation.
Post Ovulation (Days 14 – 21)
Once the egg has been released it lives for around 1-2 days only unless fertilised in the fallopian tube. Levels of progesterone are high during this phase which prepares the endometrium for implantation.
Problems during this phase include: inability to maintain progesterone levels which can prevent implantation, low mood Acupuncture treatment during this phase is aimed at maintaing progesterone levels.
Pre-Menstrual (Days 21 – 28)
This is where progesterone levels are at their peak and should be a time of increased energy and creativity for a woman but as we all know, this isn’t always the case. I don’t know how to explain this in Western Medicine terms but the TCM understanding is that a ‘stagnation’ of Qi affects a womens mood. This is usually caused by stress which causes bursts of anger or tearfulness. I speak from past personal experience that this can cause great interference in a womens life. Some women will also start to experience pain a number of days before the period begins.
Acupuncture treatment focuses on promoting ‘a smooth flow’ of both emotions and the bleed (ie a pain free period).