The British Acupuncture Council explains that, “Acupuncture is one of the longest established forms of healthcare in the world. Acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for thousands of years. The focus is on you as an individual, not your illness, and all symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Treatment involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to affect the flow of your body’s qi, or vital energy.”
Acupuncture is widely used as a form of pain relief for a variety of conditions. The fine needles stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body, resulting in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins, that help to relax muscles and reduce pain. Acupuncture is safe in pregnancy and can be used in labour for pain relief.
The acupuncture used by many physiotherapists, known as dry needling, is slightly different. Dry needling, also known as myofascial trigger point dry needling, can be very helpful during and following pregnancy to manage pain and to release tight muscles or painful ‘trigger points’ using acupuncture needles. It can be useful to allow manual therapy to become more effective if your muscles are not responding as you had hoped to manual therapy.
When stressed or injured, muscles often form trigger points, like contracted knots that cause pain and tightness in your muscle and connective tissue. You may be able to locate these painful knots yourself when touching your muscles.
Some women with PGP find that if their symptoms are mainly due to painful trigger points in their muscles and tissues surrounding their pelvis and their pelvic joint misalignment/pain is minimal then acupuncture can help to reduce their painful symptoms and manage them throughout their pregnancy.
Usually, women with PGP have reported (via our helpline) that acupuncture helps them to manage their pain but symptoms recur and their pelvis still feels unstable, affecting their mobility. This is due to the underlying pelvic joint dysfunction that usually needs to be assessed and treated by a manual therapist experienced in treating pelvic joints and muscles (please see our ‘PGP is treatable’ and ‘What to expect from treatment’ pages for more information).
Acupuncture can be very helpful to treat and calm your pain system and can be particularly helpful if you have chronic pelvic pain with an unknown cause. If you have developed a lot of pain or are experiencing chronic pain associated with your PGP which is preventing you from responding to manual therapy treatment, acupuncture or dry needling can help to calm muscles and reduce your pain, enabling you to tolerate and benefit from ‘hands-on’ treatment. Our ‘Understanding chronic pain’ page explains this in more detail.
For more information about acupuncture please visit the British Acupuncture Council website or the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists website.
Intramuscular stimulation (IMS) is a relatively new total system for the diagnosis and treatment of myofascial pain syndromes (chronic pain conditions that occur in the musculoskeletal system when there is no obvious sign of injury or inflammation). IMS relies heavily on a thorough physical examination of the patient, who is presenting the physical signs of neuropathic pain.
The treatment uses acupuncture needles because they are the thinnest implements available that are designed to penetrate deep within muscle tissue, specifically targeting injured muscles that have contracted and become shortened from distress. It involves dry needling of the affected areas of the body without injecting any substance. The needle sites can be at the epicentre of taut, tender muscle bands, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated and supersensitive. Penetration of a normal muscle is painless, but a shortened, supersensitive muscle will ‘grasp’ the needle in what can be described as a cramping sensation. The result is three-fold. Firstly, a stretch receptor in the muscle is stimulated, producing a reflex relaxation (lengthening). Secondly, the needle also causes a small injury that draws blood to the area, initiating the natural healing process. Thirdly, the treatment creates an electrical potential in the muscle to make the nerve function normally again.
Please note that IMS is not recommended during early pregnancy; please speak to a registered IMS practitioner and/or visit the iSTOP website for more information about IMS.