As with many types of treatment and many conditions, researchers say we need more high quality studies in order to make firm clinical recommendations. However based on the 2015 Cochrane Review (which looked at 7 studies), researchers found that there is moderate quality evidence that acupuncture may improve low back pain (LBP) and pelvic pain (PP) compared to having the usual prenatal care alone (1).
Other findings from the 2015 Cochrane Review:
- Acupuncture was found to significantly reduce pain and improve women’s ability to complete normal activities compared to physiotherapy, sham acupuncture or usual prenatal care (1).
- Groups who started acupuncture at 20 and 26 weeks both experienced a significant reduction in pain, but the group that started at 26 weeks had a larger degree of pain reduction (Ekdahl 2010).
Findings from Other Studies:
- One additional well-designed study compared women having acupuncture to those performing stabilizing exercises or usual care only. Both the acupuncture group and the stabilizing exercises group reported less pain in the morning, but the acupuncture group also reported less pain in the evening (Elden 2005).
- There are a few individual studies of good quality that have been completed since the 2015 Cochrane Review was completed. One found that women having acupuncture had a significant enough reduction in LBP and PP that they missed fewer days of work (6). Another study found that women having ear-only acupuncture (called “auricular”) experienced a significant decrease in pain (5).
In most of these studies, women received acupuncture two to three times per week in the beginning and then were instructed to reduce to once weekly. In a real-life clinical situation, your acupuncturist will give you an individualized recommendation based on things like the severity of pain, how long you’ve been experiencing it and what is realistic for your life.
Individual studies do typically show that acupuncture reduces LBP and PP during pregnancy- however the evidence is sometimes said to be of low quality. Why is this? It could be that the design of the study wasn’t very good. However in cases where the study design was robust, researchers typically like to combine the data from similar studies so they can make stronger conclusions. The problem they found is that most of the studies that exist were performed in such different ways that it’s impossible to combine the data. This was the case with the 2015 Cochrane Review. So, in the future when we have more studies which are more similar to one another, it will be easier for researchers to combine them and say that there is moderate or high quality evidence for one result or another.
What is acupuncture like during pregnancy?
Your acupuncturist might use a variety of techniques to help, including acupuncture needles, cupping, applying heat locally and other acustimulation techniques that you may even be able to continue at home. Women typically lie on one side during the treatment, supported by a special pregnancy cushion or in some cases in a reclining chair. Your acupuncturist will make sure you feel comfortable and supported.
Is it safe?
When performed by a licensed acupuncturist with experience treating pregnant patients- yes! Acupuncture needles are single-use, sterile and disposable. Studies show that any side-effects are minor and short-lived. Many studies have tracked women and their babies’ health through pregnancy and after delivery and have consistently found that women who had acupuncture during pregnancy compared to those who did not have the same outcomes. For more information on this topic, please visit the page on safety.