The study is funded with a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and will include 150 women who are at least 24 weeks pregnant. The lead researcher, Shu-Ming Wang, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at Yale School of Medicine, was approached by a colleague three years ago who was suffering from severe low back pain and sciatica in the final months of her pregnancy.
"She asked if I could do anything to help," said Wang, who inserted three, two-millimeter needles into her colleague's ear. "She recovered immediately." A subsequent survey of more than 1,000 pregnant women in New Haven County showed that 65 percent suffered from low back pain and sciatica. The survey was conducted by Yale-New Haven Hospital in conjunction with Wang, who is an attending anesthesiologist at the hospital.
Acupuncture involves stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques, including penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. In this study each of two groups of women will receive slightly varying acupuncture treatment. The remaining group will receive no treatment and serve as a basis of comparison. Wang said those women who do not receive treatment and those who do not improve with assigned group interventions will be invited to return for additional treatment at no cost after the study is completed.
The treatment consists of three tiny needles inserted on one side of the ear. The women will be asked to remove the needles after one week and the results will be measured two weeks after the treatment was initiated. "They can sleep, and shower, and forget about the needles, other than when they answer the telephone," Wang said.