Acupuncture can help relieve menstrual pain and improve the quality of life for some women, a new study from Germany shows.
Because the acupuncture patients were compared with a control group that received no therapy, rather than a "sham," or fake, version of the treatment, the placebo effect could have played a role, Dr. Claudia M. Witt of Charite University Medical Center in Berlin and her colleagues acknowledge.
"Nevertheless, our study showed that acupuncture was beneficial for women . . . ," the researchers write in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are standard treatment for menstrual pain, but they carry the risk of side effects, Witt and her team note in their report.
Acupuncture and acupressure have been found helpful in treating other types of pain, so the researchers tested whether acupuncture delivered by doctors -as it typically is in Germany - would help with dysmenorrhea.
Since 2000, the researchers note, the nation's health insurers have recommended that acupuncture to relieve pain only be covered by insurance if it is delivered as part of a study to investigate its effectiveness.
The researchers enrolled 201 women who agreed to be randomly assigned to acupuncture or no treatment.
After three months of treatment, which included an average of about 10 sessions, the average pain score was 3.1 in the acupuncture group, compared with 5.4 in the control group, using a pain scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain.
Among women given acupuncture, 63.4 per cent reported at least a 33 per cent improvement in their symptoms, while 24 per cent of women in the control group did.
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that "acupuncture should be considered as a viable option in the management of these patients."