By Simon Coghlan - MSc BSc(Hons) Physio DipMedAc MISCP BMAS
Women have traditionally been high users of complimentary therapies and the use of an evidence based complimentary therapy like Medical Acupuncture continues to be very popular during pregnancy and birthing.
There has been an increase in birth rates noted in many countries, including Ireland, over the last five years which has made the subject of wellbeing during pregnancy a very topical issue. Women are showing an ever greater interest in alternative methods of coping with pain and are exploring the use of complimentary therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy and reflexology to assist them during pregnancy (Skouteris, 2008).
At TX Mount Merrion Physiotherapy, we have been successfully integrating the use of medical acupuncture (sometimes referred to as dry needling) with conventional physiotherapy techniques for many years. Many women have attended for assistance in managing low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, a complaint which is very common but responds well to treatment when using the correct approach.
What strikes many women who attend for treatment is how gentle and relatively comfortable acupuncture treatment can be when used properly. The muscles of the low back and pelvic region respond well to gentle stimulation, particularly at points of tenderness or at trigger point sites.
This has the effect of alleviating pain, improving muscle tone and movement. In addition many clients report sleeping better and an improved sense of well being. Medical acupuncture can be effectively supplemented with specific exercises which assist in maintaining good abdominal and low back muscle strength, as well as by using a pelvic support belt. All exercises need to be performed carefully and under guidance of a chartered physiotherapist to avoid injury.
Given our success in treating low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy using medical acupuncture, I thought it would be of interest to review what the latest scientific studies have to report on the subject. I was pleased to find that there is a growing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture to treat back pain during pregnancy, as well as provide pain relief during labour. Two large systematic reviews found that acupuncture as an adjunct to standard therapy for example, was more effective than standard therapy alone (Manheimer, 2008, Pennick, 2009). This would suggest that in addition to medical management, acupuncture is a useful technique to include.
But what about safety? Historically there has been some concern about the use of acupuncture during the first trimester. However recent research would suggest that acupuncture has no significant adverse effects on the mother, the foetus or the newborn baby, regardless of the stage of pregnancy (Smith, 2002, Elden, 2008). In fact, acupuncture has traditionally been used very safely for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy to good effect (Heilmreich, 2006). In general, acupuncture is considered safe during pregnancy, with the risk of minor side effects small (a rate of 1.3 per 1000 treatments) (Benoussan, 2000). There is certainly no current evidence that acupuncture causes miscarriage, premature labour or an increase in treatment reactions (Smith, 2009).
On the basis that there is a growing body of quality research to support the use of acupuncture during pregnancy, we at TX Mount Merrion Physiotherapy look forward to continuing to assist those mums to be who may be struggling with their lower back pain. If managed correctly, there is no reason why this sort of problem should get in the way of such an exciting period of our lives.