Premenstural Syndrome, or PMS, typically occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle, between Ovulation and Menstruation. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to 14 days, depending on the severity of the imbalance causing it. Imbalances can be caused by excess (usually stagnation of Qi or Blood) or deficiency, or both. Please review my previous post to learn about how a "normal" period is supposed to happen.
Premenstrual symptoms occur because of imbalances that are in the body already; they become heightened just before the period when Qi and Blood is building. If the symptoms are due to deficiency (insufficiency) it is because there is not enough Qi, Blood, Yin or Yang to support normal function. If the symptoms are due to excess (usually either caused by heat or stagnation), the build is increasing the excess thereby exacerbating the symptoms.
The Liver Qi is the motive force that causes the blood to flow during menstruation. Pain is often due to stagnation of Liver Qi. When Liver Qi is stuck or stagnant, it causes many common premenstrual symptoms, such as: headaches/migraines, TMJ or teeth clenching, breast tenderness, cramps, irritability/short temperedness, depression, bloating and restless sleep, just to name a few. Stagnation can occur due to excess (there are too many cars trying to drive down one lane on the road) or deficiency (there isn't enough gas in the tank for the car to run and it stops, causing a back up behind it). The best cure for stagnation is movement, but you want to make sure not to over do it, especially if your stagnation is due to deficiency; it will make it worse. Looking at other symptoms can help determine the type of your stagnation.
If your symptoms are accompanied by fatigue, bloating, sweet cravings, clumsiness and/or loose bowel movements, chances are your stagnation is due to deficiency. This type of stagnation will be made worse with exercise. The best course of action would be to increase the amount of rest you are getting, both with sleep and down time during your day. If you do exercise, gentle yoga, tai chi, walking or something low key is best, so as not to over tax your body. Also, eating warm, sweet foods to nourish your Qi. This is not an invitation to eat a tray full of fresh baked brownies (sorry), but to eat foods that have the sweet flavor, like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, squash, oatmeal, chicken, rice, salmon, turkey, licorice, fresh ginger and cardamom. If you also have symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats or insomnia in the days before menstruation, that is also due to deficiency but deficiency with heat, so be cautious with the warming herbs (ginger, cardamom). You would do better with foods like millet, asparagus, seaweed, lemon, lime, egg and cranberry.
If your symptoms are accompanied by severe lower abdominal pain, irritability, quick temper, mind racing, trouble falling asleep and intense premenstrual migraines, your stagnation is probably due to excess. This type will respond well to exercise, especially more strenuous exercise, like running, swimming, vigorous yoga, mountain climbing, basically exercise that really gets your heart pumping.
This is just a very basic, general overview; to get your specific diagnosis, see your local acupuncturist. Acupuncture can relieve stagnation due to deficiency and excess or when there is a combination of the two. Not only can acupuncture address the physical symptoms, but also the emotional symptoms--mood swings, irritability, sensitivity or weepiness. If you find yourself suffering before your period every month, regular acupuncture treatments can help keep you in balance so that the symptoms are minimized or gone completely.