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"Acupuncture significantly improved pain, functional status, and quality of life in women with [lower back/pelvic pain] during the pregnancy," wrote the researchers, who included Dr. Wei Dong, from the Department of Orthopaedics at the Kunming Municipal Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.
"Additionally, acupuncture had no observable severe adverse influences on the newborns," they said in a journal news release.
The 10 trials were conducted between 2000 and 2020 in the United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, Spain and Brazil. In all, the trials included 1,040 healthy women. On average, they were in their 17th to 30th week of pregnancy.
Each had lower back and/or pelvic pain and were treated by trained acupuncturists, physiotherapists or midwives.
Seven of the 10 trials described body acupuncture. The other three described ear lobe acupuncture.
Four studies reported on the potential of acupuncture to restore physical function, showing significant improvements.
In the five studies that recorded impact on quality of life, findings suggested that acupuncture significantly improved this.
A pooled analysis of data from four studies suggested there was a significant difference in overall results when acupuncture was up against other interventions or none.
But a separate analysis of two studies reporting on pain medication indicated no difference between those given acupuncture and those given nothing.
Seven studies used "forbidden points" -- areas that are typically recommended against during pregnancy.
The results suggest acupuncture is safe, the researchers said. Four studies that reported on health scores of newborns found no significant difference between acupuncture and other interventions.
Preterm contractions were reported in two studies, but those babies were in good health at birth, the authors noted.
Side effects for the pregnant women included soreness and bleeding at the needle site as well as drowsiness. Most were willing to repeat acupuncture.
It's not entirely clear how acupuncture might ease pain but is believed to involve the release of endorphins and increased blood flow to skin and muscles.
The number of included studies was relatively small and their quality was variable, the researchers said. The studies also differed in design, methods, outcomes and participant characteristics. In two, more than 20% of participants dropped out, the authors noted.
They said acupuncture deserves closer attention for its potential to ease pain at a time when it's preferable to avoid drugs.
"More large-scale and well-designed [randomized controlled trials] are still needed to further confirm these results," the team said.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more on acupuncture.
SOURCE: BMJ Open, news release, Nov. 21, 2022
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