Acupuncture is a form of treatment involving the insertion of very thin needles through a person’s skin at specific, strategic points on their body. Traditional Chinese medicine considers acupuncture as a way to balance the qi (energy or life force). Western medicine considers it a method to stimulate muscles, nerves, and connective tissue.
Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when the endometrium — the tissue that lines the uterus — grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis typically involves the tissue lining the pelvis, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. It rarely spreads beyond the pelvic organs and is often quite painful.
Acupuncture practitioners promote acupuncture for endometriosis as a natural, noninvasive approach that is less risky and less costly. It also has fewer side effects than the drugs and surgery recommended by conventional medicine.
One of the steps you might experience when visiting an acupuncture practitioner is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnosis to identify your unique symptoms. This diagnosis is used to develop an individualized acupuncture treatment plan. The most common TCM imbalances (clusters of symptoms) in endometriosis include:
- blood stasis
- qi stagnation
- kidney yang deficiency
- spleen qi deficiency
- damp heat stagnation and stasis
If you decide to try acupuncture for your endometriosis, plan for the initial course of treatment to last six to eight weeks with visits once or twice a week. After the first phase, your practitioner might move you to two weeks a month. Commonly, you would be told to expect results in three to six months.
Your acupuncture practitioner might also recommend nutritional therapy that could include herbal formulas.
There’s no definitive answer to the question about acupuncture working for endometriosis. The closest answer would be that acupuncture could help some women deal with the discomfort of endometriosis, but more studies are necessary.
2011 articlein the New England Journal of Medicine cited a trial that showed the efficacy of Japanese-style acupuncture for endometriosis-related pain. The article concluded that data from large, randomized, controlled trials is needed to confirm these findings.
2017 journal articleindicated that, although literature suggests that pain can be reduced with acupuncture, more studies with adherence to best clinical practices are needed.
The first step your doctor might recommend is to treat your endometriosis with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as NSAIDs. If that doesn’t give you the results you need, your next step might be hormone therapy. This includes:
- hormonal contraceptives
- progestin therapy
- aromatase inhibitors
- Gn-RH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonists and antagonists
The final step, if the first steps do not offer you the relief you need, might be surgery. Commonly, your doctor might recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove endometrial tissue. In some cases, your doctor might recommend a hysterectomy, perhaps removing of your ovaries as well.
Acupuncture is often considered a complementary medicine as opposed to an alternative one. A complementary medicine is one that works alongside other medical treatments. It doesn’t replace them. Although it hasn’t yet been proven, there are some indications that acupuncture could help some women with endometriosis.
To be sure of what acupuncture can and can’t do to treat endometriosis, more clinical research studies are necessary.
Before making a final decision about any complementary procedure (such as acupuncture) discuss it with your doctor. There’s little risk to acupuncture from a trained acupuncturist. It might be an option for those who have not found treatment from other methods.
Acupuncture isn’t usually covered by insurance and typically requires numerous visits and treatments. If you’re considering acupuncture, discuss costs with your practitioner before you begin your course of treatment. You should also talk to your medical provider about your use of this treatment and the results you’re experiencing.