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Symphysis pubis dysfunction: Pelvic pregnancy pain

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

coping with this common disorder

Up to one out of every five pregnant women experience symphysis pubis dysfunction, which can be mildly annoying — or so painful it’s difficult to walk.
Pregnancy pain

We talk with moms who have suffered from it and get tips from experts on what you can do.

Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), also known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP), is a painful condition nearly unique to pregnancy. The pain and discomfort is in the pelvic region — often in the front, but the pain can be felt in the hips, lower back, groin, lower abdomen and legs. The pain stems from excessive movement and instability of the pubic symphysis and possibly from misalignment of the pelvis. If you’re suffering, you’re definitely not alone, but there are treatment options.

What does SPD feel like?

Only a mom who has been through SPD can truly understand the level of pain and restriction of movement involved.

“It's like a stabbing, burning, insane pain,” explained Jenn, who is expecting her first child. “I cry walking up the stairs, I cry laying in bed, I cry trying to change positions. I don't sleep at night because of it. I pray I don't have to go to the bathroom at night, because getting up from laying down hurts like heck.”

Carrie reported a similar experience with her last pregnancy. “It was very painful to walk and it was one of the reasons I had to stop working,” she said. “I remember it being very difficult to get in and out of bed.”

First: Consult a professional

So, what’s a mom to do? Sheila Watkins, founder and national program director of Healthy Moms Fitness, urges mothers who experience symptoms of SPD to consult with a professional first to get to the bottom of their pain instead of trying to treat it on their own. “Professional assessment is a must,” she shared. “Mom should make sure that she is seeing a professional with experience treating this specific condition. She should undergo a comprehensive assessment to determine which pelvic joints are causing her pain. This would involve looking and feeling how the different joints move when she does as well as how they move when she is lying down.”

Treatment options

While many moms are ultimately told to “grin and bear it” by their health care provider, Sheila says that there are a few things that can be tried by a physical therapist or a chiropractor. “Treatment usually involves realigning the joints with manual therapy as well as stabilization exercises to strengthen those muscles around the joints along with appropriate stretching techniques,” she told us. “She may also be offered stabilization tools such as a sacroiliac joint supportive belt.”

While support belts aren’t always helpful (most of the moms we spoke to said theirs didn’t help at all), there are still steps Mom can do, in addition to getting professional help, to minimize exacerbation of her symptoms at home. “Mom can plan her day so that she doesn’t have to go up and down the stairs so much, and she can try not to sit in bed with the legs straight out in front as this can exacerbate pubic symphysis pain,” suggested Sheila. Rachael, pregnant with her third child, agrees that there are certain ways she moves to limit the amount of pain she has. “I don’t take long strides when I walk, and I get in and out of the car with my legs together,” she said. “I have to make sure I have both feet on the floor when I get up, and I have to be sitting to get pants or shoes on.”

With plenty of support, and possible help from physical therapy or a chiropractor, moms may be able to alleviate at least a little of the pain, but keep in mind that if you are suffering, head to your care provider first, and go from there.

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