How cheap sterile water is injected as painkiller for women suffering from agonizing back pain during labour


NHS bosses have been accused of offering ‘pseudoscientific’ cheap sterile water injections as painkillers for women suffering from agonizing back pain during labour.

The healthcare medicines and treatment watchdog flagged the controversial treatment option, which involves injecting water into the lower back – their quality mark in new guidelines.

Campaigners and doctors rejected the measure, claiming the NHS was now offering treatment that is Similar to ‘acupuncture and hypnosis’.

They claimed this was yet another example of women’s pain issues in healthcare being ignored or under-exposed.

But some midwives and obstetricians have defended the treatment, saying critics ignored data showing the shots can work.

NHS bosses have been accused of offering ‘pseudoscientific’ cheap sterile water injections as painkillers for women suffering from agonizing back pain during childbirth (stock image)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, published on Friday, endorsed the injections as a ‘cheap’ option for pain relief for women in labor with back pain.

It says midwives should: ‘Explain to the woman that sterile water injections can provide relief from back pain from 10 minutes after the injection for up to 3 hours, but there may be a stinging sensation initially.’

The treatment is offered to women who suffer from terrible and abrasive lower back pain during childbirth.

This pain can occur if the baby’s head is in an awkward position during delivery, causing enormous strain on the nerves in the lower back.

During the treatment, a small amount of water is injected into the lower back.

This theoretically activates the nerves in the skin which effectively hijack the pain signal from the deeper nerves stretched through the baby’s head, providing pain relief.

Although some NHS trusts already offer these sterile water injections during childbirth, NICE guidance is expected to see them spread more widely.

The watchdog’s decision was heavily criticized by some high-profile doctors and campaigners on social media.

Some labeled the treatment pseudoscience because doctors don’t fully understand how it works, while others worried that women’s pain during childbirth was once again being ignored by doctors.

TV GP Dr Amir Khan, who regularly appears on ITV, called it ‘hugely worrying’.

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NHS palliative care physician and author Dr Rachel Clarke simply called NICE’s decision ‘absolutely astonishing’.

The Obstetric Anesthetists’ Association, a group of doctors committed to best practice in pain relief in maternity care, also criticized the treatment.

In a letter to NICE during the consultation phase for the new guidelines, they wrote: ‘What possible biologically plausible explanation is there for the benefit of intracutaneous or subcutaneous injections of water in volumes of 0.1 to 0.4 ml?

‘Because it is cheap and unlikely to cause harm, this is an inadequate justification for a recommendation, especially as NICE does not recommend other similar non-pharmacological therapies such as acupuncture and hypnosis.’

However, some obstetrics and obstetrics experts defended offering sterile water injections as an option to women suffering from this very specific pain.

Professor Sally Collins, an expert in obstetrics at the University of Oxford, and lead author of a study into the effectiveness of sterile water injections for back pain during childbirth, told MailOnline that she understood some of the concerns surrounding the treatment because at first glance , it ‘sounds ridiculous’.

Her studyinvolving more than a thousand women, showed that the injections worked for lower back pain during labor, but made it clear that this should not be the only pain relief offered.

“Nobody is suggesting this treatment for labor pain or anything else. It’s very specific to a small number of women who get this presentation,” she said.

‘For the women it works in, it works brilliantly.’

Professor Collins added that the NICE guidelines made it clear that the injections are presented as an option for women, some of whom may not want strong pain relief during labour, or those who want to give birth at home.

“We’re not saying that women will only offer this and nothing else,” she said.

TV GP Dr Amir Khan, who regularly appears on ITV, called the new NICE guidelines 'hugely worrying'

TV GP Dr Amir Khan, who regularly appears on ITV, called the new NICE guidelines ‘hugely worrying’

NHS palliative care doctor and author Dr Rachel Clarke simply called NICE's decision 'absolutely astonishing'

NHS palliative care doctor and author Dr Rachel Clarke simply called NICE’s decision ‘absolutely astonishing’

‘Many of these women don’t want to go to the hospital, don’t want an epidural and don’t want a caesarean section.’

She acknowledged and agreed with concerns from some people on social media that women’s pain was often “not appropriately addressed or taken seriously” by healthcare professionals.

She said: ‘A woman with chest pain is much more likely to be sent home with Gaviscon if she actually has a heart attack than a man.’

However, Professor Collins said the outrage over NICE’s decision is misplaced.

‘They have come to the conclusion that this is nonsense, pseudoscience, a terrible thing that a whole bunch of people who don’t take women’s pain seriously have foisted on NICE. And it’s not,” she said.

Professor Jenny Gamble, an obstetrics expert at Coventry University, added that the new NICE guidelines aimed to give women more options for pain relief during labour.

She also rejected some of the criticism surrounding the injections.

“It’s common enough that you discover something works and then figure out how it works,” she told this website.

‘The mechanism of action of aspirin, once the most widely used drug in the world as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic, was not known for about 80 years.’

A spokesperson for NICE said the guidelines are part of an extensive consultation and aim to give women more options for pain relief during labour.

“Healthcare professionals should use their clinical judgment when implementing recommendations, taking into account the individual’s circumstances, needs and preferences,” they said.

‘We looked at the evidence from eleven studies and found that sterile water injections provided relief from back pain and could be considered as part of a range of pain relief options during labour.’

Pain relief options during labor are a controversial area.

Several women have reported their requests for strong pain relief during labor being ignored or rejected by NHS doctors and midwives.