It is estimated that one in six women are affected by chronic pelvic pain (CPP) which can be defined as intermittent or constant pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis for over six months and many will use some form of complementary medicine to help their symptoms.

Experts from the RGOC’s Scientific Advisory Committee say acupuncture and Chinese herbs may have a role to play in the treatment of health problems linked to CPP, in a new opinion paper published today. The paper looks at the research evidence relating to the use of some complementary medicine interventions in the treatment of diseases that are known to be associated with, and cause, CPP.

Whilst there were no trials of acupuncture relating specifically to CPP, they did find trials of closely related conditions such as dysmenorrhoea, pelvic inflammatory disease and IBS. These are all known to contribute to CPP. Two small trials included in a recent Cochrane review found that acupuncture treatment significantly reduced menstrual symptoms compared to standard non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Acupuncture is a safe intervention and involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points distributed over the body surface. Stimulation of these points is considered to be able to induce a local and systemic healing response. The opinion paper recommends that anyone considering acupuncture treatment should find a practitioner registered with one of the major acupuncture associations such as the British Acupuncture Council, the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the British Medical Acupuncture Society.

Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) developed alongside acupuncture in China and other East Asian countries over 2000 years ago. A Cochrane review of CHM for dysmenorrhoea included 39 randomised controlled trials and reported promising results for CHM when compared to the use of pharmaceutical drugs such as NSAIDs and the oral contraceptive pill. However there are limitations as some trials had poor methodological quality and small sample sizes.The paper recommends that people only consult members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine or the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In conclusion, the authors of the paper say that while there is no definitive evidence that acupuncture or CHM are effective in the treatment of CPP, they may have roles to play in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea, endometriosis, IBS and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Professor George Lewith, from the Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit, University of Southampton and lead author of the paper said:“Some small trials suggest that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may be beneficial for chronic pelvic pain.  However, the current evidence lacks rigour and the available trials are poorly designed and inadequately reported so we can only consider this preliminary evidence.“Many women use acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for chronic pelvic pain so this area clearly requires further rigorous investigation and we would support further well-designed research for this problematic condition.”