It all started with a razor-sharp pain in my lower belly about three years ago. It came on suddenly and seemingly without cause, and the waves of pain grew so intense that at times, I couldn’t even stand up. At first, my doctor said it was a kidney stone. No go. Then he guessed it was a kidney infection... but it wasn’t. Finally, he checked me for an ovarian cyst. Close, but not quite. The real culprit was endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition that affects nearly 200 million people worldwide and involves having tissue that’s similar to the lining of your uterus take up residence elsewhere in the body — in my case, a small area in my abdomen near my right ovary. Though my experience with the disorder falls on the mild side of the spectrum, I still have to deal with hellish side effects like irregular periods, bloating, abdominal cramping, and uncomfortable fullness, along with radiating pain throughout my torso, back, and right leg. Sometimes the aches are so bad I have to take the day off of work.
I’ve turned to all kinds of at-home options — like heating pads and over-the-counter pain relievers — for dealing with these rather unpleasant symptoms, but it wasn’t until I tried acupuncture for endometriosis that I found noticeable relief.
How Acupuncture Can Help Treat Endometriosis Symptoms
Acupuncture is a holistic Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment that uses thin needles, inserted into your skin by a practitioner, to balance out your “qi,” or energy flow. Qi is believed to run through 12 channels on your body, which you can access at different points on your skin via needles, says Gabriel Sher, an acupuncturist and director of acupuncture at ORA clinic. Hitting those points can then help restore the flow of stagnant energy to alleviate symptoms for all sorts of issues, from chronic headaches to digestive woes and — you guessed it — endometriosis.
The idea behind acupuncture is that common body problems are partially caused by stagnation in your blood, according to Sher. “It's like a dam in a river: We're opening up the dam and getting everything flowing again,” he tells Bustle. While the scientific mechanisms aren’t totally clear, the results often speak for themselves. A 2017 scientific review of 10 different studies found that acupuncture successfully reduced endometriosis pain. Given my own experience with acupuncture — it’s helped ease my chronic headaches in the past — I was eager to give it a try.
What It’s Like To Do Acupuncture For Endometriosis
I visited my usual acupuncturist in Chicago, who started the appointment by asking about all my symptoms, endometriosis and otherwise. Already I felt taken care of: Contrary to most of my other medical appointments, my acupuncturist took the time and effort to talk about all of my health concerns for a 360 view of my body. She then checked my pulse and took a look at my tongue, which, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, can help reveal more information about the health of vital organs. She also walked me through what to expect throughout the session and beyond, explaining that I’d likely experience a heavier period in the coming month as the stagnant blood cleared out of my body.
“It's like a dam in a river: We're opening up the dam and getting everything flowing again.”
Then it was time for the main event. I lied down on a massage table and she inserted the needles symmetrically along my body, including inside of my elbows, on my belly, below my knees, and at a few spots on my feet. I’m not squeamish about pain or needles, so the insertions didn’t bother me: I felt an achey pinprick at some spots, and others I didn’t feel at all. Once the needles were in, I didn’t feel a thing. The rest of the session was essentially nap time. My acupuncturist dimmed the lights, turned on white noise and spa music, and then left the room to let the needles do their thing. I was so relaxed that I zonked out in no time.
About 45 minutes and one very restorative nap later, she gently woke me and removed the needles (which I didn’t feel). She gave me an herbal tincture to take twice a day to supplement the acupuncture session, and I was on my way.
My endometriosis typically strikes hardest on the first day of my period, so I anxiously awaited the date for about a week after my first acupuncture session. Finally, the day arrived... and passed uneventfully. Like, completely uneventfully — I had zero endometriosis pain, and even my more typical cramps were nowhere to be found. The period continued as such: ache-free, but also uncharacteristically heavy, exactly as my acupuncturist had described.
The practitioner I went to recommends that I get a weekly treatment for these symptoms, but that the frequency will vary from person to person. At the very least, my insurance covers some of it (I have $50 copays) — out-of-pocket acupuncture can range anywhere from $75 to several hundred depending on where you go.
While I doubt I’ll be able to get acupuncture every single week, I’ll definitely be booking more treatments. Not only did it give me relief physically, but not having to take a day off to stew in pain took a huge weight off my mind. I didn’t have to plan my schedule around debilitating cramps, which was nearly as impactful as not having to experience the pain itself. Of course, this is my experience: Everyone’s endometriosis is unique and will respond to treatments differently. But given the results I noticed, I’m now a convert.
Bordoni, B. (2018). The Anatomical Relationships of the Tongue with the Body System. Cureus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6390887/
Lund, I. (2016). Is acupuncture effective in the treatment of pain in endometriosis?. Journal of Pain Research, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27069371/
Park, B. (2015). Korean Studies on Blood Stasis: An Overview. Hindawi. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2015/316872/
Xu, Y. (2017). Effects of acupuncture for the treatment of endometriosis-related pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29077705/