Acupuncture for Pelvic Girdle Pain in Pregnancy

Many pregnant women complain about pubic pain, yet doctors and midwives often dismiss this pain as either ‘inconsequential’, ‘unfixable’, or ‘just one of those pregnancy discomforts that have to be endured’.  None of this is true:  research has shown that acupuncture can help.

Symphysis pubic dysfunction (SPD), also known as pelvic girdle pain or pubic symphysis pain is caused by the pelvic girdle area not working as it should, probably because of hormones, misalignment of the pelvis, or an interaction of the two.   It may be caused by excessive physical work during pregnancy or fatigue with poor posture, whilst lack of exercise and weight gain may contribute to the condition.

The symptoms vary, but almost all women who have SPD experience substantial pubic pain.  Tenderness and pain low down in the frontal pelvic area is common, but often this pain feels as if it is inside.  The pubic area is generally very tender to the touch; many mothers find it painful when the doctor or midwife pushes down on the pubic bone while measuring the uterus.

Any activity that involves lifting one leg at a time or parting the legs tends to be particularly painful. Lifting the leg to put on clothes, getting out of a car, bending over, sitting down or getting up, walking up stairs, standing on one leg, lifting heavy objects, and walking in general tend to be difficult at times. Other symptoms include sciatic pain, difficulty rolling over in bed, bladder dysfunction (temporary incontinence at change in position), waddling gait and even knee pain.

Pelvic Girdle Pain and TCM

Pain in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck, or ‘stagnant’. TCM treatment of Pelvic Girdle pain usually includes acupuncture to encourage the Qi to move more freely. Needles may be inserted near the site of the pain itself, but quite often acupuncture points in the hands, feet, arms or legs may be used. These ‘distal’ points are connected to the rest of the body by the meridian system and are known to be able to regulate Qi throughout the whole body.

TCM is an holistic form of medicine, which means that it treats the person as a whole. The TCM practitioner sees pain as part of the bigger picture of the patient’s overall health. This gives him or her an understanding of why the pain is happening, and treatment will be geared not only to symptomatic relief of the pelvic girdle pain, but also to improving the general health of the patient so that the relief of pain will be maintained after treatment.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Pelvic Girdle Pain?

Although a limited amount of research has been carried out, those studies which have been completed, have shown that acupuncture is effective in treating pelvic girdle pain. A study involving 386 women across 27 hospitals in Sweden in 20051 found that acupuncture was more effective than standard treatment, including stabilising exercises, and resulted in better improvement in quality of life; this trial indicated that whilst no cure exists for pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy, acupuncture was the treatment of choice for patients with experiencing the types of pain in the lumbar region which are associated with SPD (for example one sided sacroiliac pain, one sided sacroiliac pain combined with symphysis pubis pain, and double sided sacroiliac pain).


1 Elden, H, Ladfors, L, Fagevik Olsen, M Ostgaard, H-C,  Hagberg, H (2005) Effects of acupuncture and stabilising exercises as adjunct to standard treatment in pregnant women with pelvic girdle pain: randomised single blind controlled trial, British Medical Journal

This trial is available to view online at:


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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