Acupuncture and cupping are safe and effective treatments for lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy. Researchers conducted an observational study at a hospital-based community antenatal clinic in New Zealand and determined that acupuncture produces significant positive patient outcomes, including reductions in lumbopelvic pain levels.  Lumbopelvic pain is in the lower torso, lower back, and pelvic girdle and is frequently experienced by pregnant women. Acupuncture provides an important alternative treatment option because many common prescription drugs and over-the-counter analgesics are not recommended during pregnancy.
During the study period, a total of 245 pregnant women attended the clinic, 144 (56.5%) of whom reported lumbopelvic pain as their primary or secondary complaint. Sixty-three women were excluded from the study as they either did not complete a baseline assessment or did not complete a post-treatment follow-up. Data from 81 women were included in the results. Of the women involved in the study, 45 were nulliparous (55.5%). The majority of women were in the third trimester of pregnancy (49.3%), 31 were in the second trimester (38.2%), and 10 were in the first trimester (12.3%). Most of the women were referred to the clinic by a midwife (72%).
Acupuncture and cupping treatments were provided according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Points were selected on an individual basis and not all points were used on all of the women. The most commonly used points were Yanglingquan (GB34) and Zulinqi (GB41), which were used in over 50% of all women. Ashi points on the lower back were used in 25–50% of the women, excluding direct needling of Ciliao (BL32) and Zhongliao (BL33). Ashi points surrounding Huantiao (GB30) and ashi points on, near, or between Qiuxu (GB40), Shenmai (BL62), and Taichong (LV3) were also used in 25–50% of women. Ashi points between Neiting (ST44) and Lidui (ST45) and ashi points on, near, or between Chengshan (BL57), Feiyang (BL58), Yintang (MHN3), Baihui (GV20), Fengshi (GB31), and Waiguan (TB5) were used in fewer than 25% of women. Additionally, cupping therapy to the lower back was provided to over 50% of women in taking part in the study. This is an interesting selection given that cupping is ordinarily contraindicated on the abdomen and lower back during pregnancy.
Upon insertion of the needles, deqi was obtained manually and needles were retained for 20 minutes. Treatment was given once weekly, with each woman receiving a minimum of three treatments. The mean number of treatments was 3.85. Ear press needles were also offered to the women to place on the foot acupoints if desired. They were advised to retain these for 2–3 days and to remove them if they became uncomfortable or itchy.
5 Acu-points for Pregnancy
Below you will find 5 acupuncture points that will help make your pregnancy a little more enjoyable especially if you are suffering from fatigue, nausea, heartburn, hemorrhoids, constipation, or low back pain.
#1 Du20 Baihui “Hundred Meetings”
DU20 can be useful in lifting your mood, energy levels and can even help prevent a threatened miscarriage and hemorrhoids. Du20 can also help keep your pelvic floor muscles toned to avoid prolapse later on.
#2 CV17 Shanzhong “Chest Center”
This is an important point for gathering qi (energy) and so it is also useful for fatigue and anxiety. It can help alleviate a feeling of fullness in the chest especially as baby occupies more and more space and can help with as acid reflux, vomiting, and indigestion. CV17 is also helpful for distention and pain of the breasts and insufficient lactation.
#3 PC6 Neiguan “Inner Pass”
This point has many functions. Sometimes known as the seasickness point for its effectiveness for nausea, PC6 is helpful with vomiting, hiccup, and fullness of the abdomen. It can also assist with insomnia, poor memory (preggo brain), apprehension, fear, and depression. Amazingly, PC6 can also offer relief from carpal tunnel pain associated with pregnancy.
#4 St36 Zusanli “Leg 3 Miles”
Known as Leg 3 miles because soldiers used to burn moxa over this point to give endurance to walk 3 more miles even when exhausted. St36 is one of the most tonifying points in the body and Qin Cheng-zu of the Song dynasty declared “Using St36, all diseases can be treated.” St36 is the command point of the abdomen and is especially helpful harmonizing the stomach and strengthening digestion. St36 is also known to help dizziness, especially post partum dizziness and hypertension. Breast pain and abscess can also be treated using ST36.
#5 GB41 Zulinqi “Foot governor of tears”
GB41 is the confluent point of the girdle vessel a channel that wraps around the waist helping to alleviate pain of the hip, lower leg, swelling of the feet, and contraction of the toes. GB41 also helps with fullness of the chest, headaches, distention and pain of the breasts. GB41 is also a great point to help assist conception. I especially like to use this point for sciatica pain. Hint: If your headache is one sided massage GB41 on the OPPOSITE foot for relief.
Results and Discussion
All women taking part in the study completed the Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile (MYMOP) questionnaires prior to and after acupuncture treatments. The MYMOP questionnaire allowed the participants to describe their symptoms in their own words and to rate them using a scale of 0–6. They were also allowed to give additional information about other symptoms, especially those related to functional impairment and general well-being. Symptomatic changes were calculated by subtracting the post-treatment score from the pre-treatment score, and a reduction of one point or more was considered clinically significant.
Of the 81 women included in this study, 18 reported an improvement in symptoms of 1–1.99 points (22.2%), 30 reported an improvement of 2 –2.99 points (37.0%), 15 reported an improvement of 3 –3.99 points (18.5%), and 9 reported an improvement of 4 points or more (11.1%). A total of 72 women (88.9%) reported clinically significant improvements following treatments with acupuncture and cupping. The data demonstrates that acupuncture and cupping are effective treatment options.
In a prior study conducted at Yale-New Haven Hospital, researchers find auricular acupuncture effective for the treatment of pregnancy-related lower back and posterior pelvic pain.  A total of 152 pregnant women completed the study. They were randomized to receive auricular acupuncture, sham auricular acupuncture, or no treatment. All women were 25–38 weeks pregnant and had no prior experience with acupuncture.
Auricular press needles were administered at three points (kidney, analgesia, and Shenmen) and were secured with tape. These points were selected for their location close to the hip and lumbar spine areas on the auricular somatotopic map. The participants were instructed to keep these press needles in place continuously for one week without pressing or stimulating them in any way. If they experienced any redness or irritation, they were instructed to return to the clinic to have the needles inspected, adjusted, or removed if necessary.
Sham Auricular Acupuncture
The above procedure was also followed for the sham auricular acupuncture group, with the exception that three non-specific auricular points (shoulder, wrist, extra-auricular) were selected.
Pain and functional status were measured using a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) with measurements taken at baseline, on day 7, and on day 14. On day 7, all participants reported improvements in pain, with the acupuncture group experiencing the greatest improvements compared to sham and control. In the acupuncture group, 81% of participants experienced significant improvements compared with 59% and 47% in the sham and control groups respectively. Additionally, 37% of women in the acupuncture group were pain-free at the 7-day mark, compared with 22% and 9% in the sham and control groups respectively. One limitation of the study design is that the data may indicate and active sham control, with the shoulder, wrist, and extra-auricular ear acupuncture points potentially providing clinically significant contributions to symptomatic relief.
At the 14 day follow-up, 68% of women in the acupuncture group reported significant improvements in pain levels, with 16% being entirely pain-free. In the sham group, 32% of women saw improvements in pain, with 9% being pain-free. In the control group, 18% had improvements, with 6% being pain-free. The results indicate that auricular acupuncture provides significant clinical benefits.
1. Department of Human Development, Washington State University Vancouver, Vancouver, Washington, USA.
2. National Institute of Complementary Medicine at University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
3. New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wellington, New Zealand.
4. Department of Anesthesiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
5. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
6. Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
7. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
8. Women's Education and Life Learning Center, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut
9. Departments of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Human Behavior, University of California School of Medicine, Irvine, California.
1. Soliday E. Betts D. “Treating Pain in Pregnancy with Acupuncture: Observational Study Results from a Free Clinic in New Zealand” Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies 2018;11(1):25e30.
2. Wang S.M. et al. “Auricular acupuncture as a treatment for pregnant women who have low back and posterior pelvic pain: a pilot study” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology September 2009.