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A new meta-analysis shows that acupuncture treatment can improve common pregnancy symptoms such as low back and pelvic pain. Aubrie LeGault/Stocksy United
  • A new meta-analysis shows that acupuncture can improve pain, functional status, and quality of life for pregnant people experiencing lower back and pelvic issues.
  • Health experts state that acupuncture during pregnancy is relatively safe and can treat some common ailments people experience, including low back and pelvic pain.
  • While each individual is different, many people start seeing results from acupuncture after 1 month of treatment.

Many pregnant people report lower back and pelvic pain at some point during their pregnancy.

Acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular as a possible treatment for alleviating pain and discomfort, but its efficacy remains up for debate among health experts.

A new meta-analysis published on Nov. 21 in BMJ Open examined the impact of acupuncture on pain, functional status, and quality of life for pregnant people with lower back and pelvic discomfort.

Researchers investigated 1,040 participants — healthy pregnant people (17–30 weeks gestational age, on average) with lower back and pelvic pain.

Acupuncture was provided by acupuncturists, physical therapists, and midwives. Some received body acupuncture, and others received auricular pressure needles. The studies detailed the acupuncture points that were being treated, needle retaining time, and intervention dose.

The analysis shows that acupuncture significantly improved lower back and pelvic pain, functional status, and quality of life.

As a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles into the body to relieve pain and heal numerous physical, mental, and emotional health conditions.

“Acupuncture is predicated on the idea that energy, or qi, flows through our bodies through channels called meridians,” Jamie Bacharach, Dipl.Ac, a licensed medical acupuncturist, told Healthline.

“When the flow of qi is disrupted, lacking, or excessive, illness may follow. Acupuncture needles are inserted at various points on the body to manipulate the flow of qi and achieve healing.”

There are many different benefits of this form of complementary therapy, which may include:

Lower back and pelvic pain are common pregnancy symptoms.

Bacharach explained that it’s generally caused by the bodily ligaments softening and stretching to prepare for labor, leading to added stress and strain on the back and pelvic joints.

Acupuncture relieves this pain by promoting healthy blood flow to the affected areas and potentially relieving stress and anxiety, which could be exacerbating discomfort.

“Acupuncture during pregnancy can be very beneficial to relieve some of the common ailments people experience during pregnancy, such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, poor circulation, insomnia, as well as anxiety, stress, and depression,” said Dr. Monica Grover, DO, a double board certified in gynecologist and family medicine specialist and medical director at VSPOT.

Grover explained that conventional medications can often be a contraindication during pregnancy among those who experience significant pelvic, hip, or back pain associated with sciatica. Many people may turn to acupuncture as an alternative to conventional medicine.

In addition, it’s important to understand that effective medical care can take a multidisciplinary approach.

“I think it’s important to keep an open mind on various approaches to medical care — holistically, Western medicine, Eastern medicine, and otherwise,” said Dr. Kecia Gaither, MPH, FACOG, a double board certified OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, New York.

“Acupuncture’s premise of action is to unblock energy channels within the body effectively. While not specifically known, the proposed mechanism of action is that acupuncture may block or delay the pain signals from being sent to the brain, which reduces or eliminates the sensation of pain.”

Bacharach explained that some people may experience the benefits of acupuncture treatment after just one or two sessions. But most people may require three or more sessions to achieve significant results.

“In most cases, treatment is more effective when it occurs at least weekly — the less regular the visits, the less effective the treatment will be,” Bacharach said.

According to Bacharach, significant results are witnessed within anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks, after which point fewer regular maintenance visits may be scheduled.

For instance, during the first trimester, acupuncture can be offered weekly. Then in the second trimester, sessions may be spaced apart every 2-4 weeks, Grover explained.

In the third trimester, the sessions can return to weekly treatments.

During the fourth trimester, people can return to having acupuncture between 2–4 weeks postpartum to help with any lingering pregnancy symptoms or any new ones that may arise.

“The results from the procedure are cumulative with effects generally noted within 1–3 months,” Gaither said.

“It’s generally recommended to initiate it after the first trimester, certainly to have it performed in the hands of an experienced practitioner — of course, after having a discussion and clearance with one’s healthcare [professional].”

Generally, acupuncture is considered relatively safe during pregnancy.

But there is some concern that it can cause premature labor or even miscarriage, although these concerns have not been shown to have much validity when studied in clinical trials, Grover explained.

To be on the safe side, physicians may not clear some pregnant people for acupuncture who’ve shown a prior history of preterm labor or miscarriage or if their current pregnancy is at risk for early labor.

In addition, any placental issues, such as placenta previa, may also be a contraindication.

There are also a set of injection sites known as the “forbidden points” that acupuncturists should avoid in a pregnant person, especially prior to 37 weeks.

Grover explained that these off-limits points are thought to potentially lead to uterine complications from somatovisceral reflexes as well as the potential of uterine perforation.

Recent studies, however, have also negated the dangers of the forbidden points, although they are still practiced in conventional acupuncture therapy.

A new meta-analysis shows the positive effects of acupuncture on pain, functional status, and quality of life for pregnant people with low back and pelvic issues. Researchers found significant improvement across the board.

Health experts agree that acupuncture during pregnancy can be beneficial for alleviating some of the common issues people experience, including low back and pelvic pain.

Results are typically seen after 1 month of treatment, though this may vary from person to person.

While acupuncture is considered safe for most pregnancies, it’s important to talk with your OB-GYN beforehand.