Lower back and pelvic pain during and after pregnancy

Roughly 50% of pregnant women suffer from lower back pain or posterior pelvic pain; this increases towards the end of the pregnancy and through the first year after giving birth. The most widely accepted explanation for this is that these areas provide the most compensation for the increase in weight in the abdomen.

This research study is a systematic review, meaning it incorporates a large number of existing studies to draw the most accurate conclusions. This includes unpublished theses, and studies not written in the English language.

Does osteopathy work for lower back and pelvic pain associated with pregnancy?

Osteopathy provides significant reduction of pain, and improvement in function, for lower back and pelvic pain associated with pregnancy.

The key findings were:

  • Osteopathic Manual Therapy (OMT) was significantly more effective than usual care alone, or no treatment.
  • There were no serious side effects of OMT. Tiredness after treatment was a minor side effect.

Techniques that fell under the umbrella of OMT included structural, visceral, and cranial techniques. Specifically, structural techniques were listed as soft tissue manipulation, stretching, joint mobilisation, muscle energy techniques, and spinal manipulation. It is important to note that these techniques were used along with the philosophies of osteopathy. They were not just applied locally to the lower back and pelvis, but holistically, wherever needed to improve the body as a whole.

The study recognised that there was a limited amount of high quality evidence, but that the papers analysed were still significant with regards to OMT. Evidence was low to moderate for the benefit of exercise for pain and function. There was also low quality evidence to support craniosacral therapy, use of a lumbopelvic belt, and acupuncture. Due to the low quality of the evidence, it was difficult to compare to osteopathic treatment. The authors suggested that further research on the topic should involve more long-term follow-up for better quality evidence.

In the discussion, the point is raised that although there is clear benefit of osteopathic treatment, the exact reasons why are unclear. The authors draw the hypothesis that, as manual techniques have repeatedly been shown to reduce pain sensitivity, that these mechanisms allow for better neuromuscular function and control. This leads to the patient beginning to feel better, improving pain beliefs, and and allowing for further pain reduction and benefits to function.

—Franke, H., Franke, J., Belz, S. and Fryer, G. (2017). Osteopathic manipulative treatment for low back and pelvic girdle pain during and after pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 21(4), pp.752-762.