The Benefits of IUD With Acupuncture
Ask the Experts

The Benefits of IUD With Acupuncture

By Dr. Elana Weisberg, DAIM, L.Ac.
Director of Acupuncture Services, She/her

By Tia

7 min read

We asked the experts at Tia all about the benefits of IUD procedures with acupuncture. Elana Weisberg is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist practicing at Tia and Dr. Stephanie McClellan is an OB/GYN and Tia’s Chief Medical Officer.

We sat them down to chat through a favorite Tia integrative care offering. Here is the full conversation:

Why is acupuncture especially beneficial for female healthcare?

Dr. McClellan: Acupuncture is included in the Tia clinic for two reasons. First, it is an integral part of our care model that we recommend for a number of conditions including anxiety, headaches, pelvic pain, menstrual cramps, and irregular periods, to name a few. Second, Tia is designed to function as a “medical home” — the therapies we recommend are collated and provided in one place. By doing this, women are relieved of the burden of researching and locating adjunct services.

Over the length of my career, I have learned that the easier you make it for a patient to implement the care you’re recommending the more likely the patient is to agree and comply with that care plan.

Elana: Acupuncture is a powerful adjunct care for female health and wellness — mental, physical, and emotional. Acupuncture can regulate the nervous system, address hormonal imbalances, and effectively address many common female-specific ailments such as PMS/ PMDD, pelvic pain, hormonal fluctuations, associated mood swings, and more.

Acupuncture has essentially no negative side effects and offers relief in less intrusive ways than many modern-day solutions. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to help calm the nervous system and relieve pain. In China, acupuncture is often used in place of, or in addition to, anesthesia to help calm sensitivity to pain during major surgeries.

Where did the idea to do IUD procedures with acupuncture come from?

Dr. M: Twenty years ago, I was consulting for the hospital in my community, helping them outline and develop their comprehensive women’s care program for the new millennium. From my research (both clinical studies and anecdotal evidence) I recommended acupuncture be included in their care program.

I was specifically impressed by the literature I reviewed describing a Cesarean section being performed with acupuncture alone for pain relief. That was the moment of awakening for me.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the use of narcotics and other traditional western medications for pain relief associated with both complications and dependency. Acupuncture does not carry those risks.

Okay, more specifically, why include acupuncture with the IUD procedures?

E: Adding acupuncture to IUD procedures felt like a natural choice. We’ve heard countless stories of IUD insertions that resulted in fainting, tears, and intense cramping during days after.

Dr. M: I am continually impressed by the number of women who choose IUDs for their preferred form of contraception, most of them women who have never given birth — this is relevant because IUD insertions tend to be more painful for this group.

E: We’ve found that by including acupuncture and other holistic measures (a hand to hold, ocean noises, breathing exercises, heat for cramping, and raspberry leaf tea) we can help to make our patients feel more comfortable and taken care of — isn’t this what health and wellness should be?

Dr. M: My premise was that adjunct acupuncture, at the time of IUD insertion, would be effective in reducing both anxiety and pain perception. This has proven to be true.

So how exactly does acupuncture lessen pain?

E: Specific acupuncture points are stimulated, telling the brain to release beta-endorphins, our body’s natural opioid. This leads to a reduction in pain response. Discomfort is diminished because acupuncture can help to regulate uterine cramping, calm the mind, and stimulate the release of endorphins (which reduces pain receptors).

At what point in the procedure does the acupuncture take place?

Elana: We give acupuncture before, during, and post an IUD insertion or removal.

And we want to know, how many needles do you use and exactly do they go?

Elana: I use 10–15 sterile hairlike needles to stimulate acupuncture points on the hands, lower leg, abdomen, and ears.

How long do they stay in and when do you take them out?

Elana: The patient rests with the needles in for about 20 minutes before the IUD insertion or removal giving time for the nervous system to relax. As the Care Provider begins the procedure, the acupuncturist will manually stimulate a few of the needles to enhance their effects. Post-procedure, the patient will continue to rest with some additional points which help to reduce post-procedure cramping and discomfort.

If I’m terrified of needles, isn’t acupuncture just going to make my anxiety spike before insertion?

Elana: Many of my patients at Tia are brand new to acupuncture and many of them express their nerves about needles. I walk them through the whole process; explaining that nothing should be painful or uncomfortable for more than a few seconds. Once the needles are in, feelings of warmth and heaviness may start to spread around the areas where the needles have been placed. These sensations are what we want! It means that blood is flowing and the nervous system is starting to calm down. Generally, after I place the first needle, people respond with, “oh, that was it?!”

And, if the fear of needles is too strong, we can use acupressure — pressing on or massaging the acupuncture points instead of needling them — on some of these points during the procedure to help calm pain. Acupressure is a more gentle but still effective way to help relax pre and post-procedure.

Are there other Traditional Chinese Medicine practices you recommend for managing discomfort after an IUD procedure?

Elana: After the IUD is placed, I use moxibustion, a traditional technique performed by warming a condensed stick of moxa, an herb otherwise known as Mugwort or Artemesia Vulgaris, over the lower abdomen. The heat from the herb helps to relax smooth muscle and regulate blood circulation. In Tia’s IUD goodie bags, you’ll get your own moxa stick and instructions on how to use it! I also place ear seeds to specific acupuncture points on each ear. These small beads, attached to the point with a small sticker, will act as acupressure, and help to continue the effects of the treatment through applied pressure. Drinking red raspberry leaf tea and magnesium glycinate post-procedure can also help to relax uterine muscles and reduce cramping.

Which patients should consider adding acupuncture to their IUD insertion or removal?

Dr. M: My goal as a physician is to reduce pain and suffering whenever possible. To that end, I believe that any woman undergoing IUD insertion, replacement, or removal should be offered acupuncture. It is ultimately her choice to decide. This is not dissimilar to labor and childbirth, millions and millions of women across time have given birth with little or no medication with success. That said, most women today prefer to have some form of analgesia to make the process less painful and less scary. Perhaps Tia, down the road, will make a case for acupuncture during labor to improve the experience without potentially negative side effects.

There you have it. Female healthcare is a little less uncomfortable today than it was yesterday. If you have additional questions on IUD + acupuncture or feel ready to do it book your consultation now.