Acupressure App – Does it really alleviate menstrual cramps?

The media is abuzz over a study reporting that use of a cell phone app to train women in self-acupressure is effective as pain medication for treating menstrual cramps.

The Android app is called AKUD and is written in German, so unless du sprichst Deutch, it won’t do you much good. But let’s ignore that for now. Here’s the study intervention:

The study intervention

Participants received a menstrual tracking App that included instructions on acupressure for cramp relief. They also got one-on-one instruction on the location of specific acupressure points and use of acupressure using drawings and video. The App reminded them to apply acupressure starting five days before the anticipated menstruation. Control participants received a version of the app that did not include acupressure info and got usual care.

Both groups reported a reduction in menstrual pain, but participants who used the acupressure-containing app had a greater reduction in menstrual cramps compared to those who did not get the app to use, and use of birth control pills to control cramps was higher in the non-app group. Note that menstrual pain was not eliminated by use of the app,

So does acupressure help menstrual cramps?

I don’t know. Why? Because the study did not include an appropriate control.

The right control would have been to give controls a sham app that taught them ‘acupressure’, but used the wrong acupressure points.  This would have controlled for what may be a significant placebo effect of the use of the acupressure app.

A Cochrane review of acupuncture and acupressure for menstrual cramps concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend the practice. I would say this new study does not change that conclusion.

Could it hurt? 

Probably not. Although a few users of the acupressure app reported bruising and pain at the acupressure sites, only one user stopped the app due to these symptoms.

Bottom Line

For milder menstrual cramps, a lay down with a hot water bottle or a nice tub soak may be all that’s needed. Or ask a friend or loved one to massage your lower back. And don’t be afraid to exercise during your period if the cramps are not debilitating.

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and mefaminic acid are first-line medications for treatment of more bothersome menstrual cramps. Midol (combo tylenol, caffeine and an antihistamine) may work for milder cases.

Your doctor can prescribe stronger doses of NSAIDs or a cox-2 inhibitor such as Celecoxib if needed. And if you also need birth control, birth control pills and the hormonal IUD are good treatment choices.

Save your phone space for a good podcast

In my opinion, your phone app space would be better spent downloading a good podcast. In fact, I think my next blog post will be some podcast recommendations. Stay tuned…

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