Acupuncture is an effective way to relieve lower back and or pelvic pain during pregnancy, according to a systematic review of the evidence.
The research also found no observable severe adverse outcomes of the treatment on the newborn, but said larger scale randomised controlled trials are now needed to confirm the results.
Writing in BMJ Open, Chinese researchers analysed 10 studies on acupuncture for lower back and/or pelvic pain in pregnant women that had included more than 1,000 women in in Sweden, the UK, the USA, Spain and Brazil.
Those taking part were all healthy and between 17 to 30 weeks’ gestation, and in seven of the studies, acupuncture points that would normally be avoided in pregnancy were used, the team reported.
Overall, acupuncture significantly relieved pain, improved physical function and quality of life, the analysis showed.
But there was no significant difference in analgesic consumption during the study period, the researchers noted.
Acupuncture was delivered either by trained acupuncturists, physiotherapists, or midwives.
Two of the studies reported pre-term contractions but all infants were born healthy, they found. Only one study reported the gestational age at birth which was an average of 40 weeks.
‘Other expected minor adverse effects from acupuncture were recorded in seven studies, but these responses disappeared spontaneously with no impact on continuation of treatment,’ they added, concluding that acupuncture could be considered a relatively safe and effective intervention in this group.
Exactly how acupuncture might ease pain is not clear, but is thought to involve the release of the body’s innate ‘happy’ chemicals—endorphins—plus increases in blood flow to local skin and muscle, they wrote.
More studies are now needed to assess the impact on older women in pregnancy, and look at how acupuncture relates to mode of birth, pain relief in labour as well as looking at the optimal timing, frequency and type of acupuncture, they added.
But in recommendations published last year on chronic pain, NICE said the treatment could be considered in some circumstances.