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Acupuncture may relieve pelvic pain in pregnancy

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN. Pelvic girdle pain is common among pregnant women, with one in three affected suffering severe pain. It is thought to be caused by hormones affecting the flexibility of ligaments and muscles in preparation for labour.

A research team from Gothenburg's Institute for the Health of Women and Children investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture to relieve this condition. They compared standard treatment (a home exercise routine), standard treatment plus acupuncture, and standard treatment plus stabilising exercises aimed at improving mobility and strength, each treatment given for six weeks. Participants were 386 women seen at 27 Swedish maternity care centers. They were between 12 and 31 weeks of gestation and experiencing pelvic girdle pain. The women given acupuncture had significantly less pain than the other two groups. This applied to both self-reported pain using a recognized scale and pain assessed by an independent examiner in the morning and in the evening. The stabilising exercise group had more pain than the acupuncture group but less pain than the standard treatment group.

The researchers conclude that treatment with acupuncture and stabilising exercises offers clear advantages and can be seen as a useful addition to standard treatment for pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. This finding is supported by previous evidence of a beneficial effect of stabilising exercises adapted for pregnancy as well as evidence that acupuncture can have a pain-relieving effect for patients with low back pain. Although acupuncture may well prove helpful in this condition, there was no 'sham acupuncture' group, so the placebo effect may be a factor. Further trials are necessary to rule out the placebo effect, and to establish the ideal method of acupuncture if it is shown to be beneficial.
Elden, H et al. Effects of acupuncture and stabilising exercises as adjunct to standard treatment in pregnant women with pelvic girdle pain: randomised single blind controlled trial. British Medical Journal, Vol. 330, April 2005, pp. 761-764

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