What Is Pelvic Girdle Pain During Pregnancy?
This article discusses what PGP is, along with symptoms, risk factors, home remedies, and when to contact a doctor for treatment.
PGP, formerly known as symphysis pubis dysfunction, is a condition marked by pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility in the pelvic girdle. The pelvic girdle is made up of the sacroiliac joints at the back of your pelvis and the symphysis pubis joint at the front.
Although the symptoms are similar, PGP is different from round ligament pain. This pain during pregnancy occurs due to stretching of the ligaments that support the uterus.
PGP occurs in up to 20% of pregnancies, according to the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. But because PGP does not have specific diagnostic criteria, the exact prevalence is difficult to know. Research from 2011 reports that the incidence of PGP could be as high as 76.4%.
The NHS also explains that PGP does not harm your fetus. In most cases, it also does not affect your ability to have a vaginal birth.
PGP symptoms are different from person to person. Some people do not experience any PGP during pregnancy.
You may have PGP if you experience symptoms including:
- pain in the pelvic region
- a feeling of grinding or clicking in the pelvic area
- pain that extends to other areas, including:
- pubic area
- lower back
- pain that gets worse in certain situations, including:
- walking for long distances
- walking on a rough surface
- rolling to a new position in bed
- having sex
- putting pressure on one leg, such as going up the stairs or stepping out of the shower
- stretching your knees apart, such as when getting into a car
Learn about nine symptoms never to ignore if you are pregnant.
The exact cause of PGP is not fully understood. A 2018 guide outlines possible causes, including:
- uneven movement of the pelvic girdle joints
- instability of the pelvic girdle, due to structural changes in surrounding muscles
- previous trauma or injury to the pelvis
- hormonal changes
- the position of the fetus
The 2011 research mentioned earlier identifies certain risk factors that may increase your likelihood of experiencing PGP during pregnancy. Not everyone with risk factors will have PGP, though, and not everyone who develops PGP has risk factors.
Factors that may contribute to PGP include:
- a physically strenuous job that involves frequent bending or twisting of your back
- previous PGP
- previous injury or trauma to the pelvis
- history of lower back pain
Factors not associated with pelvic girdle pain
The same research notes that a variety of factors do not have a proven link to PGP. These include:
- body mass index (BMI)
- contraception use
- number of previous pregnancies
- time since last pregnancy
- weight of the fetus
Talk with your OB-GYN about your individual risk factors for PGP and how you may be able to manage your risk.
Learn what to expect at your pregnancy doctor visits.
Working with your OB-GYN, you can take steps at home to manage and reduce your PGP. Per 2018 research, home treatment for PGP can include:
- Apply heating pads to areas with pain.
- Wear comfortable, low heeled shoes.
- Avoid putting pressure on one leg. For example, sit down to get dressed or use supports to get in and out of the bath.
- When possible, avoid standing in one position for an extended time or walking for long distances.
- Try to limit strenuous activity that puts pressure on your back or pelvis.
- Ask for help getting in and out of cars to avoid flexing your hips.
- Sleep with a pillow between your knees, as suggested by 2012 research.
- Consider alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or hydrotherapy.
When to contact your doctor
Early treatment for PGP can help minimize symptoms and prevent longer-term complications, the NHS says. For this reason, it is important to contact your OB-GYN for any PGP you experience during pregnancy.
Contact your OB-GYN right away if you experience PGP with additional symptoms including:
- vaginal bleeding
- passage of large blood clots
- pain that worsens or does not go away
- a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
In addition to home care, your doctor may recommend PGP treatments including:
- Physical therapy: A trained physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches that can help reduce PGP and prevent worsening symptoms.
- Pain relievers: Your OB-GYN can advise you on which over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are safe to take while you are pregnant.
- Support devices: Your doctor may recommend the use of a pelvic support belt, crutches, or a wheelchair if you have severe symptoms.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This device uses electrical impulses to block nerve signals to the pain. People with certain conditions or medical histories should not use TENS while pregnant, per the NHS. Your doctor or physical therapist can discuss possible risks with you.
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend prescription pain medication or hospitalization for inpatient physical therapy.
People often ask these other questions about pelvic girdle pain. Stacy A. Henigsman, D.O., has reviewed the answers.
Does pelvic girdle pain mean you’re in labor?
PGP can occur at any point during your pregnancy. It is not associated with the beginning of labor. Labor contractions feel like menstrual cramps and occur at regular intervals, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The contractions become more frequent and occur closer together as labor progresses.
When does pelvic girdle pain end?
PGP symptoms typically lessen after your baby is born. Yet about 10% of people may experience continued pain after delivery. Talk with your OB-GYN if you have postpartum PGP to develop a treatment plan or diagnose a possible underlying condition that may be causing your pain.
PGP describes a group of symptoms that result from pain and stiffness in the pelvic area during pregnancy. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include pain in your lower back, groin, hips, thighs, and knees.
Contact your OB-GYN for any symptoms of PGP to begin prompt treatment and prevent worsening symptoms.
Home treatment includes keeping pressure off your pelvic area, reducing strenuous activities, and taking OTC pain medication. Medical treatments can include physical therapy, support bands and devices, TENS therapy, or prescription pain medication.