Pregnancy brings it with a whole host of unusual symptoms as your body expands to create a new life – but perhaps one of the lesser spoken about, yet more painful changes to adjust to, is the harsh arrival of pelvic pain.
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Oti Mabuse recently opened up on social media about her struggles with symphysis pubis dysfunction (or SPD), which can cause a lot of discomfort in the pelvic area during pregnancy.
The issue, which is caused by a stiffness of the pelvic joints or the joints moving unevenly at either the back or front of the pelvis, can make it very hard to get around.
Mabuse, who is expecting her first child with fellow dancer Marius Lepure, described in an Instagram post how the pain “started really slow” but would intensify at night when she was sleeping.
She’s since struggled to workout with the pain. “Aside from physiotherapy exercises, I still try continue to stay active in any way that is not painful,” she told fans.
“My level of activity depends on how severe my SPD is that day. It can be very frustrating if you used to exercise regularly and have to stop. Walking, sitting, driving all become a bit painful.”
What does pelvic pain feel like?
People were quick to share their own experiences of pelvic pain in pregnancy on Mabuse’s social media post.
One person replied: “Oh, poor you. I had SPD with my eldest and I’ve never known pain like it. Would rather have 10 babies then [sic] that pain.”
“Mine was so severe that I used crutches to walk around, in the end unfortunately I would only leave the house for appointments,” another said. “I have an existing back problem which exacerbated my SPD. It was hell.”
Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) – an umbrella term for pelvic pain in pregnancy – is thought to impact one in five pregnant women. If you experience this, you might feel pain:
- over the pubic bone at the front in the centre, roughly level with your hips
- across one or both sides of your lower back
- in the area between your vagina and anus (perineum)
- down your thighs
According to the NHS, the pain can be worse when you’re moving about – such as walking or going up and down stairs. It can also hurt when you stand on one leg (for example, if you’re getting dressed), move your legs apart (to get out of the car, for instance), turn in bed or have sex.
Hollie Grant, pre and postnatal expert and founder of The Bump Plan, says: “Everyone will experience slightly different symptoms. For some women, the discomfort is mild and they can carry on without many changes, however for some the pain will be very debilitating and some women end up needing crutches.”
What causes it?
There are three joints in the pelvis which work happily together and normally move slightly. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), pelvic girdle pain is usually caused by these joints moving unevenly, “which can lead to the pelvic girdle becoming less stable and therefore painful”. As your baby grows in the womb, this will put more strain on your pelvis.
“There are usually a variety of factors that result in a woman experiencing PGP, including changes to the muscles and connective tissue that surround the pelvic joints. If you have had a previous injury to your pelvis you may also experience more symptoms of PGP,” adds Grant.
People with back problems or hypermobility syndrome are also more likely to experience it.
What can you do about it?
The good news is there are things that can be done to relieve symptoms – just make sure you tell a midwife or your GP as soon as possible so they can help you get treatment.
Early intervention is key, as RCOG explains: “For most women, early diagnosis and treatment should stop symptoms from getting worse, relieve your pain and help you continue with your normal everyday activities.”
Hollie Grant advises asking your GP or midwife if there’s access to pelvic health physiotherapy services in the area. “You may also want to look on the Squeezy App directory to find out if there are NHS services in your area as not all medical professionals will have awareness of this,” she adds.
A physiotherapist can recommend treatment that will (hopefully) help ease your pain. This might range from lifestyle changes like avoiding movements that aggravate the pain, to doing particular exercises to strengthen the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, to manual therapy.
Other things that might help, include:
- warm baths, or heat or ice packs
- a support belt or crutches
- using pillows between your legs when you sleep
- sitting down for tasks like cutting vegetables
- wearing supportive shoes (and avoiding heels!)
- trying not to sit cross legged on the floor or a chair
- getting help with the housework and shopping (Grant warns that using a hoover and pushing a shopping trolley can really aggravate PGP)
Grant concludes: “Whatever anyone says to you these symptoms are not normal for pregnancy and they are NOT something you have to live with.”