Acupuncture Helps Relieve Pregnancy's Low Back Pain
July 6, 2000 -- For low back pain during pregnancy, acupuncture may be
better than traditional treatment with massage, heat, and exercise, according
to a Swedish report in a recent issue of the journal Acta Obstetricia et
"I'm happy to say that I was wrong about acupuncture," says lead
study author Kaj Wedenberg, MD, PhD, the assistant chief of Ob-Gyn at Central
Hospital in Vasteras, Sweden. "This preliminary study showed that
acupuncture can reduce low back pain and disability in just a few simple
Low back pain affects up to three-quarters of all pregnant women, usually
during the time between their sixth and ninth months of pregnancy. The cause is
not yet known, but risk factors include smoking, strenuous work, and a history
of low back problems. Symptoms are usually worse in the evening, can often
affect sleep, and can interfere with a woman's ability to perform daily tasks
-- even causing her to need time off from work.
Wedenberg and two nurse-midwives compared acupuncture to physical therapy in
60 pregnant women with low back pain. Over four to eight weeks, participants
received 10 treatments of either acupuncture or physical therapy. Before,
during, and after treatment, they rated their pain and disability on a scale of
zero to 10.
The groups rated their low back pain similarly before treatment, but there
were significant differences afterward. The acupuncture group had an average
pain reduction of 2.5 points in the morning and six points in the evening,
whereas the physical therapy group had a reduction of only 1.5 points in the
morning and two points in the evening.
Similarly, there were significant differences in disability after treatment.
The acupuncture group had less difficulty in performing 11 out of 12 daily
activities, yet there were no changes reported by the physical therapy
"Acupuncture is a valid treatment for low back pain, but only after
posture and proper body mechanics have been addressed," says Judy Fielder,
CNM, MN, a nurse-midwife who practices in Atlanta. "And we usually
recommend a support device that holds the uterus up and in, relieving stress on
back muscles," she adds.
Doctors say acupuncture can also relieve nausea during pregnancy.
"During the first six months, acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment
for nausea and vomiting," says Truett Bridges, MD, a pain specialist and
president of the Georgia Association of Medical Acupuncturists. "But you've
got to be very careful with pregnant women, because some acupuncture points
actually induce labor," he tells WebMD.
For this reason, Bridges supports the study researchers' use of ear
acupuncture, rather than body acupuncture. "But I think a combination of
acupuncture and physical therapy is probably the best approach," he tells
WebMD. "And repeated massage works particularly well for low back
- Low back pain affects up to three-quarters of all pregnant women,
especially those who smoke, do strenuous work, or have a history of back
- A new study shows that acupuncture may work better for low back pain in
pregnant women than the conventional treatment with massage, heat, and
- There are special precautions to take with pregnant women, because experts
say some acupuncture points can actually induce labor.