From cupping to needling to fire, oh my! While at the Integrative Fertility Symposium in the beautiful city of Vancouver recently, I (Dr. Antoinette) had the privilege of learning from some of the world’s leaders in the wonderfully safe and natural treatment options for pain in pregnancy with Traditional Chinese Medicine.
As I listened to each presenter share their knowledge and experience – it came to me that Naturopathic Doctors can really help pregnant women manage pain through all stages of pregnancy, labour and delivery. In this blog, I want to share with you 3 things I learned about treating pain in pregnancy and how Naturopathic Doctors can help.
Pregnancy pain is not something you ‘just have to deal with’
It is often thought pain during pregnancy is “normal”, there is nothing that can be done and pregnant women should just rest (or worse, just wait for the birth!) and it will resolve itself- this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the body undergoes many physical transformations to account for a growing baby. For instance, ribs separate, organs move, and the spine changes its alignment as muscles accommodate for a change in weight distribution.
These muscles can also undergo a lot of stress and tension, particularly if a pregnant woman hasn’t learnt how to adjust her posture, stance or gait to. Also women, who have had a previous back injury or have pre-existing back pain, tend to be more likely to have back pain during their pregnancy.
The hormones relaxin and progesterone during pregnancy cause relaxation of ligaments and muscles, which can cause inflammation from stillness, and lack of use.
This typically happens at 20 weeks but can also begin earlier in pregnancy for some women.
Acupuncture for pelvic and back pain
According to traditional Chinese medicine, qi (pronounced “chi”), is that vital energy
that runs through the body that allows us to move with ease through our day. When
this qi is blocked due to inflammation, muscle tension or stiffness, we experience
pain. When we allow this qi to flow freely throughout the body there is an increase
in oxygen and blood flow to the muscles that will relieve the pain. In pregnant 66%
of women report experience some type of pain and 20% report having pelvic pain.
Unfortunately, if not addresses pain is likely to increase as the pregnancy advances
and this pain significantly interferes with a woman’s quality of life (i.e. work, sleep,
movements and other activities of daily living).
Back and pelvic pain are the most common complaints pregnant women are
experiencing and seeking treatments for. According to a 2015 Cochrane review, acupuncture for the treatment of back and pelvic pain in pregnancy was
superior to conventional care. Note also that in this study some women withdrew from
the studies due to painful premature uterine contractions. The acupuncture method used in the studies was called “medical acupuncture”, which does not reflect Traditional Chinese Medical acupuncture training or point selections. In fact, points were used in these studies that Naturopathic Doctors do not use until late stage pregnancy (post-dates pregnancy or to help induce labour after 40 weeks). It is important to understand the type of acupuncture you are receiving
and how the practitioner was trained because there are certain acupuncture points that are only appropriate at certain stages of pregnancy, or not at all. While these effects were minor, it is worth noting, and overall the effect of acupuncture in pregnancy was shown to have a positive effect on pain reduction.
Fire cupping to put out the flame
During pregnancy the spinal changes that our may cause compression of the discs
within the bones of the spine, which can mean there is less oxygen being delivered
to the supporting muscles. This is the proposed theory to why cupping and local
acupuncture on the back can improve blood flow and decreasing pain. For those that
may be wondering…
What is cupping?
If you recall, the 2016 summer Olympic Michael Phelps made his debut at the
aquatics centre with purple circular markings on his back. That was the effects of
cupping, which is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy-involving the placement of
glass cups to various muscles to increase blood flow and oxygen to relieve tension
and increase their overall function of those muscles. The marks left behind from a
cupping treatment are often referred to as bruises but if they were true bruises,
they’d be quite painful and these marking are not. Cupping is an excellent therapy to
relieve back pain during pregnancy.
Pain-free pregnancy is possible!
Are you pregnant and experiencing pain anywhere in your body? I would love to
help you feel more in control of that pain so you can enjoy your pregnancy! Or if you
are curious about whether acupuncture or cupping is right for you in pregnancy, I
welcome you to schedule a complimentary meet and greet to chat more about it!