How to ease pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy

As much as 50 per cent of women experience pelvic girdle pain.
As much as 50 per cent of women experience pelvic girdle pain. Photo: Julian Rupp

Pregnancy is an exciting time. However, it can also be a time of discomfort. From sore breasts to back pain, heartburn to nausea; it's not always smooth sailing.

A less often discussed source of pain is your pelvic girdle.

And yet, Women's Health Physiotherapist Shira Kramer from BeActive Physio says the problem is so common in pregnancy, she sees it "day in and day out" in her practice.

In fact, she says, as many as 50 per cent of pregnant women experience it.

Pelvic girdle pain can happen in pregnancy for a number of reasons, explains Kramer.

Firstly, during pregnancy there's an increase in the hormone relaxin, which causes "stretchiness" of the ligaments of the pelvis. Because these systems are now looser, they don't offer as much support to your pelvic bones.

Add in the weight of your pregnant belly, plus the fact your whole centre of gravity has just shifted forward, and it's easy to see why your pelvis can suffer.

While some women with pelvic girdle pain experience pain over their pubic symphysis (the hard bone at the front of the pelvis), Kramer says others have pain radiating into their groin, inner thigh, lower abdomen or into their buttocks.

If you're experiencing pelvic girdle pain, Kramer reassures there are ways to feel better.

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Firstly, maintain a good posture when standing, sitting and walking. This means evenly distributing your weight on both your legs.

This is because leaning on one leg, or slouching, will aggravate your pelvis as it puts asymmetrical forces on it.

Next, take smaller steps when walking. Again, this is to help keep your pelvis 'even'. Kramer notes it's also worth ditching the heels and opting for flat shoes (with well-cushioned insoles) instead.

You should also try to strengthen your pelvic floor to reduce discomfort. This can be done through core stabilising exercises.

To do these exercises, Kramer advises breathing normally and keeping your back still. Then, gently lift your pelvic floor muscles (kind of like trying to stop yourself while going to the bathroom), while pulling your lower abdominal muscles in towards your spine.

If your buttocks are particularly sore, Kramer says gluteal stretches can help.

She explains that your gluteal area (or buttocks) can become particularly sore because the muscles tighten to try to compensate for those loose pelvic ligaments. They do this to help stabilise your joints, and yet it can lead to a lot of discomfort.

For gluteal stretches, Kramer advises sitting down and crossing one foot over the opposite knee and then gently leaning forwards.

Another way to help release those sore gluteal muscles is by placing a tennis ball or spikey ball against a wall, leaning back onto it and gently rolling the ball over your buttocks.

While these exercises can help reduce discomfort, if you're really sore, Kramer advises resting and applying ice to the area.

She also says it's worth seeing a women's health physiotherapist for an accurate diagnosis and management plan.

Your women's health physiotherapist can also offer hands-on treatment to release tight muscles, provide taping if needed, fit you for a compression garment (like shorts or leggings), apply tubigrip (an elastic bandage that goes around your abdomen) or supply you with a pelvic support belt if needed.

Even if your pelvis is particularly sore, Kramer reassures you can still give birth naturally, though it may make some positions in labour more uncomfortable.

Using a fitball in labour can help support your pelvis, as can ensuring your legs aren't widely apart during delivery (such as in stirrups). 

While delivering your baby will cause your hormone levels to change again, Kramer says the results aren't immediate. However, you should start to see some improvement in your pelvic pain post- birth.

Besides, after giving birth you'll have a delicious newborn to snuggle. Even though that may not reduce your pelvic discomfort straight away, it will give you plenty of reasons to smile.