How Pregnant Women May Benefit From Seeing a Chiropractor
The number of appointments with doctors and specialists a woman has while pregnant can feel overwhelming, but it may be beneficial to add one more to that lengthy list.
"Chiropractic care can help with musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy, such as back pain, leg pain or hip pain," said Leena Nathan, M.D., an OB-GYN at UCLA Health Westlake Village in California. "Some chiropractors specialize in prenatal care."
About 50 percent of all pregnant women experience back pain, and 50 percent to 75 percent experience back pain during labor. However, only 21 percent of pregnant women who are experiencing back pain seek medical assistance, according to a study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.
"In pregnancy, our options for using pain medications are limited," explained Jessica Pettigrew, a certified nurse-midwife (CNW) and instructor educated at Yale University who specializes in women's health in Colorado. "We really try to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, which are kind of the mainstay for back pain outside of pregnancy. So, chiropractic care is nice in that it doesn't involve taking medications that we often avoid in pregnancy and it can be effective."
What to expect during chiropractic treatment
Although chiropractic care during a normal pregnancy is not considered risky, Nathan advises checking with your doctor first to see if they have any recommendations. "Make sure the chiropractor you choose has experience working with pregnant women," she said.
Chiropractors who specialize in treating pregnant women may offer special accommodations. For example, some chiropractors use a different table than for the general public.
"They might have a table with a cutout in the middle if the patient is...laying on her stomach, or they might adjust them in a chiropractic chair," Pettigrew said. "In general, chiropractic care for most patients is tailored to whatever their chief complaint is, and in pregnancy, that's a lot of back pain, hip pain and sciatica."
Pettigrew added that seeing the same chiropractor throughout the pregnancy is beneficial because they will be aware of what's working and what's not working. She also advised finding a chiropractor who can do dry needling and acupuncture, which are used to reduce muscle pain and increase blood flow.
Chiropractic care during labor and delivery
Chiropractic care is sought by women both throughout pregnancy and during childbirth.
According to a study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, a chiropractic procedure called the Webster Technique can correct the position of a baby that is breech. Chiropractors reported a success rate of 82 percent when using this method.
Pettigrew said the Webster Technique is about as effective at correcting a breech baby as a procedure midwives such as herself offer called an external cephalic version. This is where a midwife uses her hands to try to flip the baby.
The Webster Technique, on the other hand, adjusts the sacrum (the triangular bone below the lumbar vertebrae) and may involve manipulating uterine ligament attachment points on the abdominal wall.
Other considerations to keep in mind
There are certain spinal adjustments Pettigrew advises her clients to avoid during pregnancy.
"A lot of healthcare providers, myself included, encourage [clients] not to have the neck adjusted because we've all seen some pretty serious injuries from neck adjustments in pregnancy," she explained.
For patients looking to find a chiropractor, Pettigrew said asking questions before settling is key.
"I would ask whether they have experience treating pregnant women, how frequently they have treated pregnant women, what techniques outside of mechanical adjustments do they use, and whether they use techniques, such as dry needling and acupuncture," she advised.
"For a lot of women, cost and insurance coverage is important, so if there's someone who can accept a referral from your OB-GYN provider that can go through your insurance or use your HSA, that helps make chiropractic care more accessible."