Pelvic pain, so-called symphysiolysis, is a common disorder among pregnant women throughout the world. One third of those affected experience severe pain. Those who do heavy work or have previously had back or pelvic pain are at the greatest risk of being affected. The pain appears along the sacrum, or rump bone, and often radiates downward to the back of the thighs. Sometimes women also experience pain across the pubic bone. This affects the ability to stand, walk, and sit. It is important to distinguish pelvic pain from regular back pain, since improperly treated pelvic pain can aggravate the condition. No treatment cures pelvic pain, but the condition can be alleviated.
A study from the Section for Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University examined the outcome of the treatment of 386 pregnant women with pelvic pain. The women were divided into three groups in which three different treatment strategies were tested for six weeks.
The first group received only standard treatment, comprising counseling, a soft pelvic girdle, and a program of home exercise. The second group received standard treatment and normal acupuncture, that is, the type of acupuncture stimulation given to men and non-pregnant women with similar symptoms. The third group received standard treatment and individual training with a physical therapist designed to stabilize the pelvis.
The women were examined by a physical therapist before the study started. This entailed several tests designed to provoke pelvic pain. The same tests were performed after the treatment was completed. The women assessed their pain in the morning and evening on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 meant no pain and 100 the worst pain imaginable.
The results show that both the women in the acupuncture group and in the physical therapy group experienced a reduction in pain both in the morning and in the evening a week after the completion of the treatment. However, the pain diminished most among the women who were given acupuncture. In the standard exercise group, the morning pain increased while the evening pain remained largely unchanged. The percentage of women who experienced pain in response to provocation after the completion of the treatment was lowest in the acupuncture group. Acupuncture proved to be the most effective treatment for women with pelvic pain.
In summary the study shows that both acupuncture and physical therapy designed to stabilize the pelvis alleviate pelvic pain during pregnancy. Acupuncture proved to be superior to such physical therapy in this study.
The findings are of special importance since no previous studies have demonstrated such substantial results of treatment in isolated and well-defined pelvic pain during pregnancy.