What is round ligament pain?
Round ligament pain is a pregnancy symptom that’s common during the second trimester. The pain might catch you off guard, but it’s considered a normal occurrence. There's no reason for alarm.
Round ligaments are a pair of ligaments in your pelvis that hold your uterus in place. Some women don’t have problems with their round ligaments until they become pregnant. As the belly size increases during pregnancy, round ligaments stretch in response to the growth.
Nonpregnant women have thick and short round ligaments. But pregnancy can cause these ligaments to become long and taut. Round ligaments normally contract and loosen slowly. Pregnancy puts extra pressure and strain on your ligaments, so they can become tense, like an overextended rubber band.
Sudden, rapid movements can cause your ligaments to tighten too quickly and pull on nerve fibers. This action triggers sharp pain and discomfort.
Round ligament pain symptoms
The severity of discomfort is different for everyone. If it's your first pregnancy, you may fear that this pain is due to a bigger problem. Your concerns are understandable, but recognizing the symptoms of round ligament pain can ease your worries.
The most recognizable symptom of round ligament pain is an intense, sudden spasm in your abdomen or hip area. The pain usually occurs on the right side. Some pregnant women experience round ligament pain on both sides.
The good news is that round ligament pain is temporary. It usually stops after a few seconds or minutes, but the pain can be intermittent and return. Certain activities and movements can cause pain.
While your doctor may recommend light exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to note that some forms of physical activity can trigger or worsen your pain. Other triggers for round ligament pain include:
- coughing or sneezing
- turning over in your bed
- standing up too fast
- other sudden movements
You’re more likely to experience discomfort during physical activity because movement causes stretching of the ligaments. But you can make adjustments to ease your discomfort once you identify activities that cause you pain. For example, if you’re prone to round ligament pain while rolling over in bed, turning over at a slower pace may alleviate or reduce pain.
How is round ligament pain diagnosed?
There are no specific tests to diagnose round ligament pain. If this is your first pregnancy and you're unfamiliar with this type of pain, make a doctor’s appointment to discuss your symptoms if you’re concerned.
In most cases, your doctor can diagnose round ligament pain based on a description of your symptoms. They may conduct a physical examination to ensure the pain isn’t caused by another problem.
Even if you know what round ligament pain feels like, it’s important to notify your doctor if your round ligament pain doesn't resolve itself after a couple of minutes, or if you have severe pain accompanied by other symptoms. These include:
- pain with bleeding
- pain with urination
- difficulty walking
Round ligament pain occurs in the lower abdomen, so you may think that any pain you feel in this region is due to stretching ligaments. But this isn’t always the case. You could have a more serious condition requiring a doctor’s attention.
Severe stomach pain during pregnancy might occur for a number of reasons, including placental abruption. Other illnesses that can cause lower stomach pain include appendicitis, a hernia, and problems with your liver or kidneys.
In the case of severe pain, your doctor may need to rule out preterm labor. Preterm labor can feel like round ligament pain. But unlike round ligament pain which stops after a couple of minutes, preterm labor pain continues.
Treatment for round ligament
Round ligament pain is common during pregnancy, but there's plenty you can do to reduce discomfort. Making adjustments to avoid sudden movements is one way to reduce pain.
Your doctor may recommend other treatments, including:
- stretching exercises
- prenatal yoga
- over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen
- bending and flexing your hips while sneezing, coughing, or laughing
- a heating pad
- a warm bath
Wearing a maternity belt may also remedy round ligament pain. These abdominal support garments are worn underneath your clothes. The belts help support your bump and can relieve the pain and pressure that results from a growing stomach.
Not only can a maternity belt provide relief for round ligament pain, it also helps relieve:
- lower back pain
- sciatica pain
- hip pain
A maternity belt can provide extra support if you’re pregnant with multiples.
Round ligament pain is a common symptom and there’s little you can do to prevent it from occurring. But once you start experiencing pain, you can take steps to ease discomfort. It’s important to understand your individual triggers.
If you’re unable to prevent or ease pain, the pain may stop completely on its own as you move into your third trimester. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.