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Back Pain and Pregnancy: Understanding Pelvic Pain in Pregnancy

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Understanding Pelvic Pain in Pregnancy

One problem that many pregnant women complain about is pubic pain. Yet doctors and midwives often dismiss this pain as either 'inconsequential', 'unfixable', or 'just one of those pregnancy discomforts that have to be endured'. Occasionally, some uninformed doctors have even mistakenly told women that such pubic pain means that they would need an elective cesarean section in order not to permanently damage that area during birth, or as a result of prior damage to the area.

Yet none of this is true. Pubic pain in pregnancy is certainly not 'inconsequential'; Although many doctors and midwives do not know what causes it or how to fix it, many women are able to get improvement or relief with chiropractic treatment or osteopathic manipulation. It is not something that you 'just have to live with'. And although extra care should be taken during labor and birth in order to prevent trauma, it absolutely does NOT mean that you 'have' to have a cesarean!

For more information about chiropractic care visit

Although not every provider has a name for this condition, it is most commonly called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (or SPD), especially in Britain. Other names for it include: pubic shear (osteopathic term), symphyseal separation, pubic symphysis separation, separated symphysis, pelvic girdle relaxation of pregnancy, pelvic joint syndrome. In the United States it is most commonly referred to as Pubic Symphysis Disorder. (However, for the sake of this article we will use SPD.)

The symptoms of SPD vary from person to person, but almost all women who have it experience substantial pubic pain. Tenderness and pain down low in the front is common, but often this pain feels as if it's inside. The pubic area is generally very tender to the touch; many moms find it painful when the doctor or midwife pushes down on the pubic bone while measuring the uterus (fundal height).

If you are unsure about your pain being SPD or pelvic pain do this quick and easy test.

Any activity that involves lifting one leg at a time or parting the legs tends to be particularly painful. Lifting the leg to put on clothes, getting out of a car, bending over, sitting down or getting up, walking up stairs, standing on one leg, lifting heavy objects, and walking in general tend to be difficult at times. Many women report that moving or turning over in bed is especially excruciating.

Many movements become difficult when the pubic symphysis area is affected. Although the greatest pain is associated with movements of lifting one leg or parting the legs, some women experience a 'freezing', where they get up out of bed and find it hard to get their bodies moving right away--the hip bone seems stuck in place and won't move at first. Or they describe having to wait for it to 'pop into place' before being able to walk. The range of hip movement is usually affected, and abduction of the hips especially painful. Many women also report sciatica when pubic pain is present. SPD can also also be associated with bladder dysfunction, especially when going from lying down (or squatting) to a standing position. Some women also feel a 'clicking' when they walk or shift just 'so', or lots of pressure down low near the pubic area.

Many women with SPD also report very strong round ligament pain (pulling or tearing feelings in the abdomen when rolling over, moving suddenly, sneezing, coughing, getting up, etc.). Some chiropractors feel that round ligament pain can be an early symptom of SPD problems, and indicate the need for adjustments. Other providers consider round ligament pain normal, part of the body adjusting to the growing uterus. If experienced with pubic and/or low back pain, it probably is associated with the SPD.

Indeed, although pubic pain often does go away after pregnancy, many women find that it sticks around afterward, usually diminished but still present. If treatment to resolve any underlying causes is not done, long-term pain usually sticks around. Anecdotally, this often seems to be associated with long-term low back pain or reduced flexibility in the hips. Even worse, if the mother is mishandled during the birth, the pubic symphysis can separate even more or be permanently damaged. This is called Diastasis Symphysis Pubis.

Although the best idea may be to resolve chronic SPD pain through realigning the pelvis girdle and soft tissues, most women have some residual pubic and low back discomfort sticking around during pregnancy and the early postpartum weeks because of hormones. Therefore, tips for coping with pubic pain tend to be a focus of many SPD websites.

Many of the suggestions include:

  • Use a pillow between your legs when sleeping; body pillows are a great investment!
  • Use a pillow under your 'bump' (pregnancy tummy) when sleeping
  • Keep your legs and hips as parallel/symmetrical as possible when moving or turning in bed
  • Some women also find it helpful to have their partners stabilize their hips and hold them 'together' when rolling over in bed or otherwise adjusting position
  • Some women report a waterbed mattress to be helpful
  • Swimming may help relieve pressure on the joint
  • Keep your legs close together and move symmetrically
  • When standing, stand symmetrically, with your weight evenly distributed through both legs
  • Sit down to get dressed, especially when putting on underwear or pants
  • Avoid 'straddle' movements
  • Swing your legs together as a unit when getting in and out of cars; use plastics or something smooth and slippery (like a garbage bag) on the car seat to help you enter car backwards and then turn your legs as a unit
  • An ice pack may feel soothing and help reduce inflammation in the pubic area
  • Move slowly and without sudden movements

Visit a chiropractor who has experience treating pregnant women

taken from Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction
by Pamela Vireday
ICPA Newsletter Jan-Feb 2003

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Blogger Olivia said...

The problem is these things do not help the woman while pregnant. I have pelvic instability (which is a mixed bag of SPD, SI misalignment, and sciatica) and some of the recommendation never helped me and in fact made me worse. What helped me was having a knowledgeable chiro, a good physio, and the book:

You really have to see what works for you. There is no magic bullet, you have to be treated individually.

What I find most disturbing is the lack of knowledge surrounding pelvic instability and the lack of comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation programs available.

October 15, 2008 at 2:59 AM  
Blogger Sno said...

Hi there-

I have SPD, and have had it since week 27 probably. Seems to be getting worse. This is my 1st child. I am 35 and have scoliosis. I thought maybe the two were related, but maybe not. The garbage bag in the car is wonderful, it lessens my pain. I sit down to put on pants, which lessens pain but it's still there. I just hope it goes away after my C-section. Oh yes, my baby is breech, I wondered if this was because of my scoliosis or that is what is making my PSD worse. I don't know. Anyway, thanks for the information.

November 12, 2008 at 1:05 AM  
Blogger fiona said...

hi, its very informative, Back Pain Relief , thanks

October 1, 2010 at 3:21 AM  
Blogger KrishaLiva said...

Great post! Very informative. I know that when you are pregnant there are so much pain you will feel, but now I understand it very well. Thanks for sharing this post. It really helps.

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April 26, 2011 at 11:12 PM  
Blogger Kari said...

I agree that SPD and pelvic pain are under-recognized and under-diagnosed. It affects way more women than most physicians realize. Pelvic instability and SI joint pain can be debilitating during pregnancy. I recommend to any pregnant mom suffering from pelvic pain to find a good maternity belt. My best recommendation for pelvic pain is the Symphysis Maternity Belt. Worth Googling.

May 15, 2011 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Cearajennifer said...

I'm 37 weeks my 1st baby and I have all of these things going on it just started 4 days ago I don't think I could have handle it if it happened earlier on it is so unbearable so bad to walk and when I wake up and try to get off the bed my pelvis always does a loud POP and oh boy does it hurt [sorry for all the women going threw this]

November 16, 2011 at 12:47 AM  

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