• Acupuncture;
  • non-penetrating sham acupuncture;
  • pelvic girdle pain;
  • pregnancy

Objective  To investigate whether acupuncture has a greater treatment effect than non-penetrating sham acupuncture in women with pelvic girdle pain (PGP) during pregnancy.

Design  Randomised double-blinded controlled trial.

Setting  East Hospital, Gothenburg, and 25 antenatal primary care units in the region of Västra Götaland, Sweden.

Population  A total of 115 pregnant women with a clinical diagnosis of PGP who scored ≥50 on a 100-mm visual analogue scale (VAS).

Method  Women were randomly allocated to standard treatment plus acupuncture or to standard treatment plus non-penetrating sham acupuncture for 8 weeks.

Main outcome measures  Main outcome measure was pain. Secondary outcomes were frequency of sick leave, functional status, discomfort of PGP, health-related quality of life and recovery of severity of PGP as assessed by the independent examiner.

Results  After treatment, median pain decreased from 66 to 36 in the acupuncture group and from 69 to 41 in the non-penetrating sham group (P = 0.493) as assessed on a VAS. Women in the acupuncture group were in regular work to a higher extent than women in the sham group (n = 28/57 versus 16/57, P = 0.041). The acupuncture group had superior ability to perform daily activities measured with the disability rating index (DRI) (44 versus 55, P = 0.001). There were no significant differences in quality of life, discomfort of PGP and recovery from severity of PGP between the groups.

Conclusions  Acupuncture had no significant effect on pain or on the degree of sick leave compared with non-penetrating sham acupuncture. There was some improvement in performing daily activities according to DRI. The data imply that needle penetration contributes to a limited extent to the previously reported beneficial effects of acupuncture.