Pain Relief During Pregnancy: Acupuncture Eases Lower Back and Pelvic Discomfort

An analysis of existing studies indicates that acupuncture can significantly ease pelvic or lower back pain commonly experienced by pregnant women.

No notable adverse side effects were noted for infants whose mothers chose this treatment, even though only some studies included in this analysis examined outcomes such as premature birth.

Acupuncture has quickly established itself as an effective treatment option for various kinds of pain, without the need for medication and considered safe.

How exactly it eases pain is still unclear, though it is thought to involve the release of endorphins – your body’s natural “happy” chemicals – as well as an increase in localized blood flow to muscles and skin.

But whether this treatment can alleviate the debilitating pelvic and low back pain experienced by over 90% of pregnant women remains to be determined.

Databases were searched to locate clinical studies that explored how pregnant women who received acupuncture alone or in combination with other therapies experienced greater relief during their pregnancies compared with those receiving no or other treatments (dummy/no/other), as well as any effects these therapies might have had on their newborns.

1040 pregnant women participated in 10 randomized controlled studies that involved 1040 participants; these women averaged 17-30 weeks pregnant and experienced pelvic or lower back discomfort.

Acupuncture was provided by midwives, physiotherapists or trained acupuncturists. Three studies referred to ear lobe acupuncture while seven concerned body acupuncture.

Studies reported the acupuncture points used for treatment, needle retention time and dose used. Seven of them also included so-called forbidden points which are generally thought of as contraindicated during gestation as used.

A combined analysis of 9 studies demonstrated that pain in pregnant women was significantly alleviated with acupuncture treatment. Four of these studies also discovered significant physical function improvements after receiving acupuncture treatments while another five studies reported significant quality-of-life gains after receiving such therapies.

Four studies demonstrated a statistically significant difference when comparing acupuncture treatments with no or other therapies.

Analysis also indicated that acupuncture was safe, with four studies reporting no significant difference in Apgar health scores of newborns when exposed to either acupuncture or another treatment (otherwise no treatment or no acupuncture treatment was used).

Seven studies reported expected minor side effects for pregnant women receiving acupuncture, such as bleeding and soreness at the needle site, discomfort and drowsiness; yet most participants rated acupuncture positively and were willing to repeat it if needed.

However, the number of studies included in the analysis was relatively small and varied considerably in quality. Participant characteristics, outcomes, methodology and design also varied widely between them – dropout rates exceeded 20% in two of them as well.

Even so, researchers concluded that acupuncture merits careful consideration as an option to combat pregnancy-related pain at a time when medications might pose adverse side effects for both mother and baby.

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