Acupuncture can provide relief for both back pain and sciatic pain. I see it every day in my practice. Back strain and sciatic pain are quite common in pregnant women starting in the second trimester. As the baby grows, the weight distribution on the lumbar spine and sacroiliac joints, along with the associated muscles and tissues, changes quickly and drastically. Women may alter their posture to compensate for this change or fall into a habit of poor posture due to fatigue from carrying this new weight. At the same time, hormonal changes in the body are causing the ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and soften in preparation for labor and delivery. This can cause instability of the sacroiliac joints.
Western medicine offers very little help for this condition other than rest and seems to not take it too seriously, since the cause of the problem will go away in a few months. But for those working women who must continue to function until close to their due date, the pain can be quite unbearable. It can affect their ability to do their job and can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Without relief, these women will be exhausted even before delivering and caring for a new infant. Fortunately, acupuncture is quite safe and effective in treating back pain and sciatic pain during pregnancy.
There are many acupuncture points that can be effective. Local needles in the lower back, hip and leg may be used, but I find these to be very inconvenient for a pregnant woman. My favorite points for sciatic pain for the general population are Master Tung’s points on the hand called Ling Gu and DaBai. But these points are on the Large Intestine channel, very close to Large Intestine 4 which is an acupuncture point that is definitely contraindicated during pregnancy.
I have had success treating sciatic pain during pregnancy with two other Master Tung points located on the forearm. Like many of Master Tung points, these two points are not located directly on a traditional meridian. They are located between the San Jiao (hand shaoyang) meridian and the Small Intestine (hand taiyang) meridian. Both points are located by placing the palm on the chest. The first point is Shou Wu Jin (Hand Five Gold). It is located 6.5 cun proximal to the pisiform bone and .5 cun lateral to the San Jiao meridian. The second point Shou Qian Jin (Hand Thousand Gold) is 1.5 cun proximal to Hand Five Gold. Because they are located between the hand shaoyang and the hand taiyang meridians, they can effectively treat sciatic pain along either the Gallbladder (foot shaoyang) meridian which runs down the outside of the leg or the Bladder (foot taiyang) meridian which runs down the back of the leg.
I have found that just these two points can be very effective to get the pain out of the leg in just a few sessions. Depending on the position of the baby, it may not be possible to completely get the pain out of the back. Moxa may be helpful to relax the back muscles and be especially helpful if the area feels cold to the touch, indicating a Kidney yang deficiency. A partner can be instructed to use the moxa at home. My patients have been very grateful for the pain relief without the use of drugs or invasive procedures at this critical time in their baby’s development.