Being constipated is an uncomfortable and, sometimes, extremely painful condition that happens to most people at some point in their lifetime. For those who cannot treat their constipation with medications or other common remedies that are harsh on their body, studies are finding that acupuncture is an option.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation happens when it is difficult to move your bowels or when bowel movements happen less often. Regular bowel movements can occur anywhere from three times a day to three times per week.
Common symptoms of constipation include:
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Problems or straining to go
- Small or hard stool
- A feeling that everything didn’t pass
- Bloating in the belly
Many factors contribute to constipation including changes to your diet, dehydration, fibre insufficiency, and too much dairy intake. Leading a sedentary lifestyle, stress, certain medications, pregnancy, and gastrointestinal disorders can also cause constipation.
Excess Constipation vs. Deficiency Constipation
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are two types of constipation: excess constipation and deficiency constipation.
In excess constipation, defecation is difficult and bowel movements may occur only every three to five days. A blockage forms due to an inadequate formation of feces. Such a situation leads to lack of hydration or poor lubrication of the large intestinal system and fluid unbalance in faecal matter. It is often a result of exterior causes, like food and lifestyle, as well as interior causes, such as heat drying out the intestinal system. Eating hot and spicy food, exposure to excess heat for a long duration, and emotional disorders, such as stress and anxiety, can cause excess constipation. Stress negatively affects digestion and can lead to constipation. Acupuncture flips the switch on the body’s fight-or-flight response, restoring normal body functions.
In deficiency constipation, defecation is easier but stools are smaller. Bowel movements occur every two to three days or more frequently. A general lack of energy leads to the body’s difficulty in evacuating normal stool. When it comes to excretion, stools are normal. However, peristalsis is slow and transit time is longer. Childbirth, major burnout, long illness, and old age are some of the causes of deficiency constipation. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling cold
- Pale nails
- Dull complexion
- Mental fatigue
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a key component of TCM that involves inserting very thin needles through the skin at specific points of the body. It can be used to treat pain, hormonal imbalance, infertility, menopause, stress, ADHD, IBS, weight loss, and aid in respiration difficulties, among many other ailments.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi—or the basic energetic flow of life—can become unbalanced and cause illness. Qi is thought to travel through 20 pathways or meridians in the body, which are accessed by about 400 acupuncture points. Through these acupuncture points, Dr. Yan can rebalance your energy flow and allow your body to spark its natural healing processes.
Like any other medical treatment, acupuncture is a process that takes time, and results vary by patient and illness. The effects of the first few treatments typically last from 48 hours to less than a week; re-stimulating the same acupoints on a regular basis will bring about the best outcome. After about six treatments, patients typically experience total relief of symptoms. This will vary with acute and chronic disorders.
How Can Acupuncture Help with Constipation?
Acupuncturists have long known that constipation could be treated with acupuncture, but a clinical study released in 2016 confirms it. In the study, patients who suffered from chronic constipation experienced significant symptom relief and improved quality of life after receiving regular electroacupuncture treatments compared to patients in the placebo group.
Over the testing period of eight weeks, 31% of patients who received the electroacupuncture treatment were categorized as having regular bowel movements. Additionally, the effects of the treatment lasted four weeks after the treatment ended. About 38% of the patients who received the real treatment reported regular bowel movements.
In electroacupuncture, thin needles are inserted beneath the skin. These needles are attached to a device that sends electric pulses into the body. According to several gastroenterologists, the study suggested that electroacupuncture is a safe and effective option for difficult-to-treat patients. Electroacupuncture is best for refractory patients, or those who are not responding to conventional medical treatments.
A drawback of this kind of treatment is the frequency. The same study recorded that some patients receiving electroacupuncture three-to-five times per week for eight weeks found the procedure burdensome.
This type of treatment can potentially be life changing for patients with chronic constipation who either cannot take or do not respond to typical treatment methods.
Problems with Laxatives
Oftentimes, laxatives can be harsh on the body and overuse can lead to even more constipation. Laxatives can interact with heart medications, antibiotics, and bone medications. They can cause dehydration from diarrhea and are often unsafe to use if you are breastfeeding.
Sometimes, overuse of laxatives can cause the body to become dependent upon them. The intestines can lose muscle and nerve response, which is how the colon contracts to perform a bowel movement. This is very serious and needs to be addressed by a doctor.
Other serious side effects include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Severe cramping
- Dizziness and confusion
- Rashes or itching
- Difficulty swallowing
- Irregular heartbeat
It may be necessary to take a laxative, especially if your doctor prescribed it. Always follow the advice of a medical professional, and let them know of any side effects.
During the clinical study released in 2016, the most common acupuncture-related side effects were found to be hematoma at the site of needling, sleeplessness, and sharp pain. However, these were found to be infrequent in both the groups and were only mild and transitory.
Visit Southcentre Chinese Acupuncture Today!
Backed by scientific evidence, acupuncture is now a widely accepted treatment for constipation, which also leads to improvements in general wellbeing and quality of life.
Dr. Yan has over 25 years of experience treating patients with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine. She specializes in treating patients who suffer from conditions that are difficult to treat. If you suffer from constipation or are interested in acupuncture services, contact Dr. Yan to schedule an acupuncture session today.