Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) can be a sore point for many expectant mums. Around 20% of pregnant women are believed to be affected, with 5% experiencing serious symptoms. What causes the ailment, previously known as SPD (synthesis pubis dysfunction), remains a mystery though.
“It probably has something to do with the fact a mum-to-be produces a hormone called relaxin,” says Moira Finlayson, GP and chair of Pelvic Instability Network Scotland . “Relaxin softens the pelvic ligaments so your baby can pass through the pelvis at birth, but as a result the pelvic joints tend to move more, causing inflammation and pain,” she adds.
Sometimes PGP sufferers have pre-existing back or pelvis problems that don’t show up until pregnancy.
PGP can occur at any time when you’re pregnant or after giving birth, although many women notice it for the first time around the middle of their pregnancy.
“Generally if you’re suffering from PGP, any movement that makes you tilt forward or backwards is likely to cause pain to your pelvis area,” says Joanna Cram, osteopath and member of the British Osteopathic Association. So it may hurt when you squat, lift heavy items, stand up, push, walk up stairs and when you’re getting in and out of bed or the bath. “Pain can normally be felt in the joints of your pelvis, your hip, back and thighs or in your lower abdomen, and you may also notice a grinding or clicking sensation in your pelvis area too,” says Moira.
If you’re showing signs of PGP, ask your GP or midwife for a referral to a physiotherapist who’ll set up a treatment plan tailored to your own unique symptoms. You may be offered a support belt to wear too, but this doesn’t help everybody. Special exercises will temporarily take the strain off your pelvis and help relax the muscles in the pelvic area.
“Try squeezing a pillow lightly between your legs for 10 seconds, then repeating the exercise up to 10 times,” suggests Joanna. “Resting regularly, sitting on an exercise ball or getting down on your hands and knees is good for taking the strain off your pelvis too. And swimming can help,” she adds. Try gently walking through the water or lightly kicking your legs while lying on your back.
Most women find that their symptoms improve after their baby is born, although some still have pain. “Make sure you get in touch with your physiotherapist if you’re still in pain after the birth or if pain returns later,” advises Moira.
“I suffered from PGP in my second pregnancy and spent a lot of time planning my labour with my physiotherapist who then passed this information onto my midwife. Before the birth, the distance that I could comfortably have my legs apart was measured so that during labour I wouldn’t go beyond this. We also discussed trying to avoid an epidural as it was important that I could feel if I was over-stretching.”
Rachael Dunseath, 35, from North Yorkshire, mum to Freya, 20 months, and Amelia, 3.