Acupressure for Menstrual Cramps

Acupressure massage is an ancient Oriental healing method that applies finger pressure to specific points on the skin surface to help prevent and treat illness. Acupressure has had a long and distinguished history as an effective healing tool for many centuries and is often used along with herbs to promote the healing of disease.

When specific acupressure points are pressed, they create changes on two levels. On the physical level, acupressure affects muscular tension, blood circulation, and other physiological parameters. On a more subtle level, traditional Oriental healing believes that acupressure also helps to build the body’s life energy to promote healing. In fact, acupressure is based on the belief that there exists within the body a life energy called chi. It is different from yet similar to electromagnetic energy. Health is thought to be a state in which the chi is equally distributed throughout the body and is present in sufficient amounts. It is thought to energize all the cells and tissues of the body.

The life energy is thought to run through the body in channels called meridians. When working in a healthy manner, these channels distribute the energy evenly throughout the body, sometimes on the surface of the skin and at times deep inside the body in the organs. Disease occurs when the energy flow in a meridian is blocked or stopped. As a result, the internal organs that correspond to the meridians can show symptoms of disease. The meridian flow can be corrected by stimulating the points on the skin surface. These points can be treated easily by hand massage. When the normal flow of energy through the body is resumed, the body is believed to heal itself spontaneously.

Stimulation of the acupressure points through finger pressure can be done by you or by a friend following simple instructions. It is safe, painless, and does not require the use of needles. It can be used without the years of specialized training needed for insertion of needles.

How to Perform Acupressure

Acupressure is done either by yourself or with a friend when you are relaxed. Your room should be warm and quiet. Make sure your hands are clean and nails trimmed (to avoid bruising yourself). If your hands are cold, put them under warm water.

Work on the side of the body that has the most discomfort. If both sides are equally uncomfortable, choose whichever one you want. Working on one side seems to relieve the symptoms on both sides. Energy or information seems to transfer from one side to the other.

Hold each point indicated in the exercise with a steady pressure for one to three minutes. Apply pressure slowly with the tips or balls of the fingers. It is best to place several fingers over the area of the point. If you feel resistance or tension in the area on which you are applying pressure, you may want to push a little harder. However, if your hand starts to feel tense or tired, lighten the pressure a bit. Make sure your hand is comfortable. The acupressure point may feel somewhat tender. This means the energy pathway or meridian is blocked.

During the treatment, the tenderness in the point should slowly go away. You may also have a subjective feeling of energy radiating from this point into the body. Many patients describe this sensation as very pleasant. Don’t worry if you don’t feel it, not everyone does. The main goal is relief from your symptoms.

Breathe gently while doing each exercise. The point that you are to hold is shown in the photograph accompanying the exercise. All of these points correspond to specific points on the acupressure meridians. You may massage the points once a day or more during the time that you have symptoms.

Acupressure Exercises

Exercise 1: Balances the Entire Reproductive System

This exercise balances the energy of the female reproductive tract and alleviates all menstrual complaints. It also helps relieve low back pain and abdominal discomfort.
Equipment: This exercise uses a knotted hand towel to put pressure on hard-to -reach areas of the back. Place the knotted towel on these points while your two hands are on other points. This increases your ability to unblock the energy pathways of your body.

  • Lie on the floor with your knees up. As you lie down, place the towel between the shoulder blades on your spine. Hold each step 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Cross your arms on your chest. Press your thumbs against the right and left inside upper arms.

  • Left hand holds point at the base of the sternum (breastbone).

    Right hand holds point at the base of the head (at the junction of the spine and the skull).

  • Interlace your fingers. Place them below your breasts. Fingertips should press directly against the body.

  • Move the knotted towel along the spine to the waistline.

  • Left hand should be placed at the top of the pubic bone, pressing down.

    Right hand holds point on tailbone.

Exercise 2: Relieves Cramps, Bloating, Fluid Retention, Weight Gain

This sequence of points balances the points on the spleen meridian. It helps to relieve menstrual cramps. It also relieves bloating and fluid retention and helps to minimize weight gain in the period leading up to menstruation.

  • Sit up and prop your back against a chair, or lie down and put your lower legs on a chair. Hold each step 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Left hand is placed in the crease of the groin where you bend your leg, one-third to one-half way between the hip bone and the outside edge of the pubic bone. Right hand holds a spot 2 to 3 inches above the knee.

  • Left hand remains in the crease of the groin.

    Right hand holds point below inner part of knee. To find the point, follow the curve of the bone just below the knee. Hold the underside of the curve with your fingers.

  • Left hand remains in the crease of the groin.

    Right hand holds the inside of the shin. To find this point, go four fingerwidths above the ankle bone. The point is just above the top finger.

  • Left hand remains in the crease of the groin.

    Right hand holds the edge of the instep. To find the point, follow the big toe bone up until you hit a knobby, prominent small bone.

  • Left hand remains in the crease of the groin.

    Right hand holds the big toe over the nail, front and back of the toe.

Exercise 3: Relieves Nausea

This exercise relieves the nausea and digestive symptoms that often occur with cramps and low back pain.

  • Lie on the floor or sit up. Hold the points 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Left index finger is placed in navel and pointed slightly toward the head.

    Right hand holds point at the base of the head.

Exercise 4: Relieves Menstrual Fatigue

This sequence of points relieves the fatigue that women experience just prior to the onset of their menstrual period. Tiredness may last through the first few days of menstruation for many women. This exercise can also help to relieve menstrual anxiety and depression. Caution: The second step in this sequence has traditionally been forbidden for use by pregnant women after their first trimester.

  • Sit up and prop your back against a chair. Hold each step 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Left hand holds point at the base of the ball of the left foot. This point is located between the two pads of the foot.

  • Right hand holds the point midway between the inside of the right ankle-bone and the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is located at the back of the ankle.

  • Left hand holds point below right knee. This point is located four fingerwidths below the kneecap toward the outside of the shinbone. It is sensitive to the touch in many people.

Exercise 5: Relieves Low Back Pain and Cramps

This exercise relieves menstrual cramps and low back pain by balancing points on the bladder meridian. It also balances the energy of the female reproductive tract.

  • Sit on the floor and prop your back against a wall or a heavy piece of furniture. Hold each step 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Alternative Method: Lie on the floor and put your lower legs over the seat of a chair. Follow the exercise from that position.

  • Place right hand 1 inch above the waist on the muscle to the right side of the spine (muscle will feel firm and ropelike).

    Place left hand behind crease of the right knee.

  • Right hand stays in the same position.

    Left hand is placed on the center of the back of the right calf. This is just below the fullest part of the calf.

  • Right hand remains 1 inch above the waist on the muscle to the side of the spine.

    Left hand is placed just below the ankle bone on the outside of the right heel.

  • Right hand remains 1 inch above the waist on the muscle to the side of the spine.

    Left hand holds the front and back of the right little toe at the nail.

Suggested Reading for Acupressure

The Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. An Outline of Chinese Acupuncture. New York: Pergamon Press, 1975.

Bauer, C. Acupressure for Women. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1987.

Chang, S. T. The Complete Book of Acupuncture. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1976.

Gach, M. R., and C. Marco. Acu-Yoga. Tokyo: Japan Publications, 1981

Houston, F. M. The Healing Benefits of Acupressure. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1974.

Kenyon, J. Acupressure Techniques. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1980.

Nickel, D. J. Acupressure for Athletes. New York: Henry Holt, 1984.

Pendleton, B., and B. Mehling. Relax With Self-Therap/Ease. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Teeguarden, I. Acupressure Way of Health: Jin Shin Do. Tokyo: Japan Publi-cations, 1978.

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Written by Susan M. Lark MD

Explore Wellness in 2021