Interventions for preventing and treating low-back and pelvic pain during pregnancy

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 30;2015(9):CD001139. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001139.pub4.


Background: More than two-thirds of pregnant women experience low-back pain and almost one-fifth experience pelvic pain. The two conditions may occur separately or together (low-back and pelvic pain) and typically increase with advancing pregnancy, interfering with work, daily activities and sleep.

Objectives: To update the evidence assessing the effects of any intervention used to prevent and treat low-back pain, pelvic pain or both during pregnancy.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth (to 19 January 2015), and the Cochrane Back Review Groups' (to 19 January 2015) Trials Registers, identified relevant studies and reviews and checked their reference lists.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of any treatment, or combination of treatments, to prevent or reduce the incidence or severity of low-back pain, pelvic pain or both, related functional disability, sick leave and adverse effects during pregnancy.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy.

Main results: We included 34 RCTs examining 5121 pregnant women, aged 16 to 45 years and, when reported, from 12 to 38 weeks' gestation. Fifteen RCTs examined women with low-back pain (participants = 1847); six examined pelvic pain (participants = 889); and 13 examined women with both low-back and pelvic pain (participants = 2385). Two studies also investigated low-back pain prevention and four, low-back and pelvic pain prevention. Diagnoses ranged from self-reported symptoms to clinicians' interpretation of specific tests. All interventions were added to usual prenatal care and, unless noted, were compared with usual prenatal care. The quality of the evidence ranged from moderate to low, raising concerns about the confidence we could put in the estimates of effect. For low-back painResults from meta-analyses provided low-quality evidence (study design limitations, inconsistency) that any land-based exercise significantly reduced pain (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.64; 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.03 to -0.25; participants = 645; studies = seven) and functional disability (SMD -0.56; 95% CI -0.89 to -0.23; participants = 146; studies = two). Low-quality evidence (study design limitations, imprecision) also suggested no significant differences in the number of women reporting low-back pain between group exercise, added to information about managing pain, versus usual prenatal care (risk ratio (RR) 0.97; 95% CI 0.80 to 1.17; participants = 374; studies = two). For pelvic painResults from a meta-analysis provided low-quality evidence (study design limitations, imprecision) of no significant difference in the number of women reporting pelvic pain between group exercise, added to information about managing pain, and usual prenatal care (RR 0.97; 95% CI 0.77 to 1.23; participants = 374; studies = two). For low-back and pelvic painResults from meta-analyses provided moderate-quality evidence (study design limitations) that: an eight- to 12-week exercise program reduced the number of women who reported low-back and pelvic pain (RR 0.66; 95% CI 0.45 to 0.97; participants = 1176; studies = four); land-based exercise, in a variety of formats, significantly reduced low-back and pelvic pain-related sick leave (RR 0.76; 95% CI 0.62 to 0.94; participants = 1062; studies = two).The results from a number of individual studies, incorporating various other interventions, could not be pooled due to clinical heterogeneity. There was moderate-quality evidence (study design limitations or imprecision) from individual studies suggesting that osteomanipulative therapy significantly reduced low-back pain and functional disability, and acupuncture or craniosacral therapy improved pelvic pain more than usual prenatal care. Evidence from individual studies was largely of low quality (study design limitations, imprecision), and suggested that pain and functional disability, but not sick leave, were significantly reduced following a multi-modal intervention (manual therapy, exercise and education) for low-back and pelvic pain.When reported, adverse effects were minor and transient.

Authors' conclusions: There is low-quality evidence that exercise (any exercise on land or in water), may reduce pregnancy-related low-back pain and moderate- to low-quality evidence suggesting that any exercise improves functional disability and reduces sick leave more than usual prenatal care. Evidence from single studies suggests that acupuncture or craniosacral therapy improves pregnancy-related pelvic pain, and osteomanipulative therapy or a multi-modal intervention (manual therapy, exercise and education) may also be of benefit.Clinical heterogeneity precluded pooling of results in many cases. Statistical heterogeneity was substantial in all but three meta-analyses, which did not improve following sensitivity analyses. Publication bias and selective reporting cannot be ruled out.Further evidence is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimates of effect and change the estimates. Studies would benefit from the introduction of an agreed classification system that can be used to categorise women according to their presenting symptoms, so that treatment can be tailored accordingly.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Back Pain / prevention & control
  • Back Pain / therapy*
  • Braces
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Manipulation, Osteopathic
  • Pelvic Pain / prevention & control
  • Pelvic Pain / therapy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data