Study: App-based self acupressure could help with menstrual cramps

By Laura Lovett

For many women their monthly period can mean a few days of debilitating cramps or at least some discomfort. But last month a published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that app-based self acupressure could be an effective way to help with menstrual pain compared to usual care. 

By the end of the study women who were instructed to use the acupressure reported experiencing statistically significantly less pain than women who were not.

“Our results might have practical implications, because they could add a self-care option to the recommended treatment options of oral contraceptives and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, which are effective but have limitations due to side-effects and failure rates,” authors of the study wrote. “Moreover, self-care treatments such as rest, medication, heating pads, tea, exercise, and herbs are already practiced by women with menstrual pain. Therefore an additional non-drug and self-care treatment option might fit well into women’s perceptions of how to treat menstrual pain and might further support self-empowerment of affected women.”

Around 81 percent of women of reproductive age are living with painful menstrual cramps, clinically called dysmenorrhea. Approximately 15 percent of women are suffering from severe dysmenorrhea, according to the study. 

The study included 220 women who ranged from 18 to 34 years old, with a mean age of 24. Of those, half were put into a control group and were given standard self care instructions and the other half were given additional acupressure tools. Users agreed to participate for six menstrual cycles. 

The study, which took place in Berlin, gave both groups the app called AKUD, which included visualization of the menstrual cycle, questionnaires and diaries. But only half of the participants were given the additional acupressure feature. 

The feature included explanations of the acupressure procedure, drawings, videos and photos of the acupressure points.  The technology was developed by experts from China, Germany, and the US. 

The app sent reminders to women in the test group to apply acupressure starting five days before the anticipated menstruation. Users were able to switch off the reminders within the app. Women in the control group didn’t receive any study-specific interventions. 

Participants were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain. By the third cycle women who were in the acupressure group reported their pain at a 4.4, whereas, women who received the usual care reported a pain level of 5. 

The study noted that adherence was good overall but declined slightly over time. During the first cycle, 97.3 percent of women reported that they practiced the acupressure on at least one day during the menstruation cycle. However, by the sixth cycle adherence had dropped to 82.9 percent. 

“That the adherence was still high after three months and the effect increased over time is encouraging,” authors of the study wrote. “Regarding the high prevalence of menstrual pain, a treatment option with a modest to moderate effect and a good safety profile might have a considerable public health impact and should be further evaluated.”

Fifteen of the women who had acupressure treatment reported at least one suspected adverse reaction. The most common reactions were bruising, deteriorations, and shifts in the menstrual cycle. One of the women decided to stop after the first cycle due to the reaction. 

In the future researchers said they would like to expand the pool of participants. In this study 90 percent of women had 12 years or more of education, which is more than the general public. 

Researchers suggest that future trials should provide long-term data and compare acupressure with other active treatment options among a more diverse target group.

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