Today, I want to take the opportunity to write a few things about how I treat Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) in pregnant women. This condition, also known as Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), is a problem that in my experience responds very well to acupuncture treatment.
If you’re suffering from Pelvic Girdle Pain or know someone who is, read on to find out why you should point them in the direction of a skilled local acupuncturist.
What is Causing Pelvic Girdle Pain / Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction?
Pelvic Girdle Pain occurs when the symphysis pubis joint begins to separate slightly in preparation for childbirth. This process usually starts in the later stages of pregnancy (24-26 weeks) and, if the area becomes inflamed, it can lead to pain around the pubic bone that may radiate to the lower back or groin.
In Chinese medicine, we understand that pain is caused by a blockage in the free flow of blood and qi through the body’s channels. This blockage is often due to the ‘invasion’ of a weakened joint by environmental factors such as Wind, Cold and Damp. In the case of Pelvic Girdle Pain, we would need to diagnose what aspects of Wind, Cold and Damp have ‘invaded’ the joint, and also whether these have led to Heat being generated in the joint.
As an example of the kind of ‘invasion’ I’m talking about, I remember the case of one pregnant client who came to see me with Pelvic Girdle Pain who had been swimming in the local river with her friends. Here, I determined that the river water had caused Cold to invade the joint thus triggering her pain. (This is perhaps a more obvious example, so please don’t be put off seeking treatment if you haven’t recently jumped in a cold river!)
If you’re seeking relief at home, a good way to differentiate between Heat and Cold affecting the joint is how your pain responds to a hot or cold compress. If heat helps with the pain then it is likely Cold in the joint causing the problem, and vice versa if it is Heat in the joint causing pain then it will likely respond well to a cold compress.
The Importance of Addressing Pelvic Girdle Pain in its Early Stages
When addressing a problem like Pelvic Girdle Pain it makes a huge difference how quickly you are seen for acupuncture treatment.
As an acupuncturist, I always stress that acute problems respond much quicker to treatment, and more chronic problems are likely to take longer to change. This means that you are likely to see a quicker improvement if you come to see me within weeks of the problem starting.
Depending on the severity of the problem, some clients report that their pain is gone after 2 or 3 sessions, and others that the discomfort has diminished to a much more manageable level. If treated when the symptoms first manifest, acupuncture can help to prevent the pain from becoming more intense as pregnancy progresses.
In all cases, I would recommend that you receive more regular treatment to get the best result – scheduling 2 appointments a week for the first two weeks, at which time you will either no longer need treatment or can reduce attendance to one session per week.
How I Treat Pelvic Girdle Pain / Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction with Acupuncture?
When treating pain with acupuncture, I usually use acupoints located close to the site of the pain as well as those located further away on the same channel. In the case of Pelvic Girdle Pain, I would generally use acupoints on your legs belonging to the channel that runs through the pubic region.
If you want to massage these points at home, then make sure that you use a strong enough pressure to elicit the same aching/tingling sensation we look for with acupuncture treatment. Apply firm pressure with your thumbs and then perform small circles while pressing in – you should feel that you are influencing the area below the skin and not just the skin itself.
The points that I recommend are:
‘Yang Mound Spring’ (Gb-34)
To find this acupoint you can run your finger straight up from the outside of your ankle bone until you reach the nobbly bump at the top of your fibula. ‘Yang Mound Spring’ is then located in the depression just in front of and below this bump.
‘Great Rushing’ (Liv-3)
To find this acupoint you can feel the gap between your big toe and your second toe. Feel up this gap until you find where the bones join. ‘Great Rushing’ is located in the hollow just before these bones join.
‘Foot Governor of Tears’ (Gb-41)
To find this point you can feel the gap between your fourth and fifth toes. Again feel up to where the bones join and ‘Foot Governor of Tears’ is found in the hollow just before this joint. You will also find that this hollow is bordered by the tendon that runs down to your fifth toe.
An Interesting Note Regarding Pre-Birth Acupuncture
An interesting observation (perhaps just for me as an acupuncturist) is that treatment intended to prepare a woman’s body for childbirth could possibly cause some return of the original Pelvic Girdle Pain symptoms.
When performing pre-birth acupuncture, I commonly use an acupoint on the leg that is intended to help soften and relax the body’s ligaments prior to labour. I have had reports that Pelvic Girdle Pain returns to some extent after these treatments, but at this stage in pregnancy, women are usually looking forward to childbirth so the benefits are felt to far outweigh any discomfort.
If you have any questions about whether acupuncture or tuina might be able to help with your Pelvic Girdle Pain or any other pregnancy-related issues then please get in touch.