During pregnancy, pressure on the tissues of the pelvis can lead to pelvic girdle pain – a condition associated with discomfort and immobility.
Many expecting mothers experience this condition, so in this blog we are going to talk about ways of managing the condition and relieving discomfort.
What is Pelvic Girdle Pain?
Pelvic girdle pain refers to non-specific pain in the hips (both front and back), as well as connected areas like the thighs and back. We’re going to discuss it in relation to pregnancy, though there are some other possible causes, such as osteoarthritis or trauma.
Symptoms include Pain in the front of the hips, SI joint (the back of the hips), the lower back and the thighs. It is also related to pelvic floor weakness/dysfunction, poor stability and gait, grinding in the hip joints, limited hip movement and pain during sexual intercourse.
Approximately 20% of women experience PGP during pregnancy, so it is worth understanding this problem – especially if you have a history of PGP during pregnancy.
Potential Causes of Pain
PGP is a general, non-specific condition, it is a collection of symptoms that may have different causes and contributing factors. This means that we can’t say for certain what the cause is – individual cases are different, and your doctor or physiotherapist’s analysis is key to understanding your condition.
With that said, there are a number of common contributing factors (also discussed here):
- Weakness and dysfunction in the core/hip muscles
- A weak or dysfunctional pelvic floor
- Exceptionally large or heavy child
- Atypical positioning of the foetus in the womb
- Weakness or laxity in the connective tissues of the hip
There are other contributing factors, but these are among the most common. Our tips only relate to the above listed, so it is important to follow your healthcare specialist’s instructions – they’re in the best position to provide advice according to your individual needs.
Tips for Relieving Pelvic Girdle Pain
These are some tips for managing pain. They are not treatment tips – they may simply help alleviate day-to-day discomfort.
Heat and cold therapies are common approaches to managing pain. You can apply a cold pack to areas of inflammation and swelling, or apply heat to sore areas (such as the hip joints or lower back).
These are simple ways of alleviating a bit of pain and making yourself more comfortable. This may be a good choice if you find the condition debilitating and need to return to activity.
You can also buy support garments that gently compress the area. This reduces the outward-pressure placed on the hips and may help with engaging/stabilising the core.
These garments aren’t a cure, however, and their effectiveness depends on the causes of your condition. If you’re suffering due to core weakness, this may reduce pain and improve day-to-day activities.
Slouching, slumping and hyperextension especially during standing or sitting, apply extra stress to the lower back, reduce control/stability in the spine and contribute to pelvic/back injury risk.
Upright posture helps with the long-term improvement spinal health and core control. Support garments can be useful, but you can also purchase a sitting lumbar support to keep yourself upright.
Also, consider a footstool or another foot-platform when sitting. This keeps your hips neutral and activated, instead of letting them relax and immobilise.
This one isn’t discussed as much but can be a real problem during pregnancy – especially with PGP. When sleeping, your muscles are “turned off” and you’re at the whim of gravity.
Inactivity can lead to spinal swaying, bending or twisting. There are a few ways of mitigating these risks:
- Place a pillow between your thighs (if you sleep on your side) to keep the hips “square”
- Place a pillow under your mid-back (if you sleep on your back) to neutralise the spine
- Take caution when getting into bed/rolling over – move your hips and spine as one unit
Small adjustments can reduce your pain and facilitate recovery – they reduce discomfort in the hips and improve your stability/resting position.
You’re at greater risk when you’re transitioning from one position to another. This means that sitting down, standing up, getting into bed or getting into the car all need more attention than normal when coping with PGP.
The main point is, as mentioned above, to move your hips and spine as a single unit. Twisting during is not advised – it places undue stress on the lower back and hips.
Focus on sitting back and down, then rotating a single leg at a time while seated. If you’re moving to a laying position, sit first and then rotate your whole body at once to get into position on the bed. The focus is on making sure your hips and spine stay neutral – rotating them independently can place shear forces on the spine or hips near the source of pain.
Keeping neutral and well-aligned in the hips and spine helps improve spinal health and may reduce discomfort if it’s the result of posture or muscular control problems.
What if it gets Worse?
If your symptoms worsen, or they don’t abate after birth, it might be time to seek further medical assistance.
You don’t have to suffer in silence – many women’s health concerns (during pregnancy or otherwise) can benefit from professional support. If you’re experiencing symptoms like those described above, you may benefit from pain self-management, or even medical guidance.
As always, consult with your healthcare professional for a comprehensive diagnosis – your individual condition is the best place to start when treating your symptoms.
*Please note, this blog is general in nature and we do recommend talking to your general practitioner who may then refer you to The Brisbane Spine Clinic.