Updated: May 8, 2020
First things first - What is Endometriosis?
The pain of Endometriosis is a reality that affects at least 1 in 10 Australian women between 18 and 45. We say ‘at least’ as this number is only an estimate.....
The official diagnosis of Endometriosis requires surgical intervention, and this is a procedure that is not often approached with the urgency it should command. With this is mind many women spend years suffering the discomfort of chronic pelvic pain suspecting they have Endometriosis; definitive diagnosis being met with lengthy delays as they await the required operation.
The very present taboo that still surrounds open discussion of periods serves to feed a general lack of understanding around what constitutes a ‘normal’ period. In our clinical experience at Red Bridge this leads to a high proportion of woman’s health patients putting up with cyclic pain because they have believed cyclic pain to be the norm and part and parcel of menstruation.
Endometriosis is a progressive chronic condition where the lining of the uterus grows in unusual areas as lesions. Most commonly it tends to like being in the pelvic area around the bowel or on the ovaries. This endometrial tissue behaves with the same cyclical and menstrual changes outside the uterus as it does within. This means a bleed occurs within the pelvic area at the same time as menstruation. This internal bleeding and inflammation can be extremely painful.
Pain is the biggest symptom of Endometriosis. Endometrial pain may be experienced immediately before or after or during the period. Sufferers of Endometriosis also report pain with intercourse, bowel movements, urination or ovulation. Other symptoms can include irregular bleeding and unusually heavy periods. Where the endometrial tissue has attached to the bowel and bladder symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, persistent need for urination and bloating are also experienced. Endometriosis is one of the big culprits when it comes the women’s fertility issues. The condition can cause hormone levels can fluctuate and the scar tissue and adhesion from endometrial tissue can result in obstructions to the Fallopian tubes and impact on the ovaries releasing eggs. It is often when women come to see us in clinic for Fertility support that upon discussing her cycle and menstrual symptoms endometriosis is first discussed. Once again, we suspect this is the result of woman not being aware that these high levels of cyclic disturbance and pain is not normal.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to Endometriosis
Chinese Medicine has a strong history of supporting women’s health with the earliest records of gynecological writings date back to 1500 – 1000 BC in the Shang dynasty. The understanding of women’s health is rooted in the Blood and largely governed by the organ systems of the Liver, Spleen and Kidney. You can read more about an overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Women’s health in one of Scott’s recent blog posts here.
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine pain is experienced when there is disruption to the free flow of Qi and Blood around the body. When a woman is in balance with optimal Qi and blood circulation then her monthly cycles should be painless. She should experience no profound pre or post menstrual signs or symptoms. The menstrual blood should a rich and fresh colour and of good volume with no clotting. The contradictory indicators of this ideal are signs of imbalance and often linked to the symptoms of Endometriosis.
Now, although we have drawn attention to the fact that time of menstruation should not be a time of discomfort, pain or distress we would like to point out it should be a time where great care is taken. The irony is that even in good health this should be a time of rest, many women whilst experiencing a multitude of unpleasant menstrual symptoms, do not honour that need. Regardless if you experience a ‘normal’ or impacted cycle it should be a time of care and awareness. A time where you give space and stillness to yourself allowing your body to undergo this important process.
Demystifying the Traditional Chinese Medicine terminology
In a very broad sense, we observe menstrual irregularities as a disharmony of Yin and Yang, Blood and Qi. Our primary focus is to regulate and optimise the flow of Blood and Qi and harmonize the Yin Yang balance. As we mentioned earlier the woman’s gynecological health is primarily governed by the Liver, Spleen and Kidney systems.
To de mystify some of the terms we are throwing around for those new to the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach we will just take this moment to briefly explain some of the above key concepts.
Yin and Yang theory serves the basis of how Traditional Chinese Medicine interprets life and within that our health. Yin and Yang theory is the understanding that all phenomena are made up of two opposing but complimentary forces. The light and dark, feminine and masculine, passive and active. One can does not exist without the other. Women are intrinsically Yin in nature with aspects of Yang to create balance.
Qi, (pronounced chee) is best described and understood as the “life force” within us. Sometimes you may hear it also referred to as our “vital energy”. Strong Qi is vital to healthy life. We derive Qi from two different sources. We have Qi that is inherited. This is present from conception and is known as “pre-natal Qi” Secondly, we can obtain Qi throughout life from how we live, our surrounds such as air, food and water. This Qi is "post-natal Qi" from nature.
For those new to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory it may sound strange referring to some of these seemingly disconnected organ systems in relation to the uterus and women’s health. The health and balance of our body is approached holistically observing both the physical and energetic nature connecting organ systems.
The energy of all the organ systems that we have discussed run in channels around the body. Specifically, the Liver, Spleen and Kidney channels actually all run through the pelvis. If any of these channels in women are blocked or deficient, we will see that manifest in some sort of menstrual problem.
The root of woman’s pre-natal essence and the original Qi (life force) is housed in the Kidneys. This essence is the basis for growth, development and reproductive health. It is also the origin of the “Heavenly Gui” or the menstrual blood. Together with the Liver the Kidneys are responsible for the regularity of the periods and fertility. The ongoing support and replenishment of a woman’s Kidney Qi is imperative for optimal health.
The Liver’s primary activity is the storage and filtration of Blood and its relationship with the Uterus means it is of vital importance to the menstrual cycle. With the Liver’s role being movement of blood where there is irregularity of the cycle, we will usually find an underlying disharmony of the Liver.
Now while the Liver is a major player in the storage and filtration of the blood the Spleen is a big part of the equation. The Spleen is the organ system that takes the nutrients and energy to produce blood, it assists the Liver with storage of Blood and also holds Uterus in place.
Along with the organ meridians that flow throughout our body there are also an additional eight extra meridians. Two that bear a mention in relation to Gynecology are:
Ren Mai – The Directing Vessel
With influence over the genitals and abdomen some of the actions of the Ren Mai is to nourishes Yin, regulates the uterus and the blood and moves the qi in the lower burner and uterus.
This is a meridian that would be used when boosting areas of deficiency.
Chong Mai – The Penetrating Vessel
Originating in the uterus the Chong Mai is known as Sea of Blood and some of its actions include regulating Qi within the Chong Mai, moving blood stasis in gynecology and working with the membranes and female breast.
This is a meridian that would be used for any blockage, stasis.
Exploring Endometriosis symptoms from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective
Of course, pain is the big one. Pain pre, post and during menstruation. Pain with sexual intercourse. Pain from bowel movements and urination. Pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine is stagnation. This is where we find a blockage, stasis or sluggishness to the movement of Qi and Blood around the body. In the case of Endometriosis, scar tissue and adhesion's are clear physical displays of this stagnant energy causing pain. Stagnation of Liver Qi (the primary source of our Blood movement) will typically result in irregular, impaired and painful cycles. Excess Heat in the Liver may also be at play resulting in long and heavy bleeding.
A Liver imbalance will often go hand in hand with imbalance of the Spleen. Our Spleen health is strongly influenced by diet with processed foods and refined carbs linked to stagnation of Spleen Qi.
Deficiency in Spleen and Kidney energy can also present as heavy and prolonged periods, associated fertility issues such as miscarriage. Tubal blockage can be the result of Phlegm Damp from Spleen Qi deficiency.
Restoring the balance
Primarily treatment at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture will involve the use of Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese Herbs to harmonize the Liver, tonify the Kidney system, strengthen the Spleen and remove stagnation by harmonizing the Qi and Blood.
Supporting women’s health, particularly in areas such as Endometriosis in relation to fertility requires a flexible and integrative approach. In our practice Scott is happy to work alongside a wide variety of professionals be it Western medicine specialists, allied health professionals or other alternative health practitioners. This way we can be sure to provide the patient with optimal and long-lasting results. If you would like to read more about Acupuncture for fertility follow this link.
If you have been putting up with painful, irregular periods and are interested in having a look at things from a Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint please get in touch with us at Red Bridge Family Acupuncture. You can contact us via our online contact form on the web or by phone on PH:(03)59061494.