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Acupuncture Relieves Pregnancy-Related Pain

Strengthening exercises can also help, study finds

FRIDAY, March 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Acupuncture can help relieve pelvic girdle pain, that searing ache that can wrap around the lower back and stomach in the last trimester of pregnancy, Swedish researchers find.

The addition of either acupuncture or special exercises to standard treatment "offers clear clinical advantages over standard treatment alone for reduction of pain," concludes their study of nearly 400 women, published in the online issue of the British Medical Journal.

Over a six-week period, researchers at the Perinatal Center at the Sahlgrenska Academy, in Gothenburg, Sweden tracked symptoms in 394 mothers-to-be with pelvic girdle pain, a common complaint among pregnant women worldwide. They divided the women into three groups: a third had standard treatment, consisting of a pelvic belt and a home exercise program; another third received standard treatment plus acupuncture; while a final third learned stabilizing exercises, meant to improve mobility and strength, along with standard treatment.

Following treatment, women who received either acupuncture or the exercise therapy, on top of standard treatment, reported less pain both in the morning and evening, compared to the group receiving standard therapy alone. Women receiving acupuncture reported the least discomfort overall.

Acupuncture and stabilizing exercises are being used more and more in Europe against pelvic girdle pain, the Swedish experts noted, but until now, no one has done this type of carefully controlled study to prove their worth.

"It is the first study of acupuncture with well-defined pelvic girdle pain," said study author Helen Elden, who is a midwife at the center in Sweden. "There are two other studies published for low back pain during pregnancy, but they have methodological shortcomings."

The study results indicate that "it is good to start the treatment as soon as the woman gets the pain, and the treatment we gave was effective," she said.

The findings strongly support the effectiveness of acupuncture against pelvic girdle pain, said Marshall H. Sager, immediate past president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

"This is a good paper," Sager said. "I wouldn't hesitate to cite this study in support of using acupuncture for pelvic girdle pain. But if you limit it to pelvic girdle pain you are being very narrow. You would do better to expand its use a bit to other kinds of pelvic pain in pregnancy."

Dr. Kenneth A. Levey, director of the Center for Pelvic Pain and Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery at the New York University School of Medicine, agreed.

"This is a well-written, well-designed study that meets all the requirements of medical practice," Levey said. "People who have been involved in the field have suspected the value of acupuncture already, but they have had no good data to back them up."

The NYU center also uses acupuncture in "a number of different pain syndromes that are present in pregnancy," he said.

Both Sager and Levey said acupuncture is more widely used in Europe than in the United States, but the situation here is changing.

"Acupuncture is probably becoming more popular in this country," Levey said. "As more randomized, well-controlled studies are published, more physicians in this country will adopt it, and insurers are more likely to pay for it."

The two clinicians disagreed on one important point, however. Sager said that, even though he believes in the safety and efficacy of the procedure, he "won't treat pregnant women with acupuncture because of the litigious society we live in."

Levey pointed out that "there really is no evidence or any suggestion that acupuncture can cause harm in pregnancy," however.

More information

Learn more about acupuncture from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

SOURCES: Helen Elden, midwife, Perinatal Center, Sahlgrenska Academy, Gothenburg, Sweden; Marshall H. Sager, D.O., acupuncturist, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Kenneth A. Levey, M.D., director, New York University School of Medicine Center for Pelvic Pain and Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery, New York City; March 18, 2005, British Medical Journal online
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