What Is Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy?

Many people experience round ligament pain during pregnancy but what is it—and is it ever cause for concern? We talked to two experts to learn more about round ligament pain.

Young pregnant woman suffering from backache
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Pregnancy is a time of great change. Not only are hormones cascading through the body, affecting everything from food aversions to weird dreams, but they are also helping your body to prepare for birth from day one, which means there might be lots of unexpected sensations, including round ligament pain.

If you are in the second half of your pregnancy and have sudden, sharp pains or a dull ache that feel like they radiate from the hips to the groin area, then you might have round ligament pain, which is an unpleasant (but common) pregnancy symptom.

We talked to two doctors to learn more about what causes round ligament pain, how to treat it, when to call the doctor, and more.

What Is Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy?

Round ligament pain is a commonly experienced discomfort during pregnancy. This condition almost exclusively happens during pregnancy; however, it is important to note that some people with endometriosis may also experience round ligaments when they are not pregnant.

Anar Yukhayev

Round ligament pain usually comes on as a sudden, sharp pelvic pain. Most pregnant people feel it in their hips or lower abdomen. It is usually one-sided, mostly on the right side. This pain could also radiate to the groin and vaginal area.

— Anar Yukhayev

During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is responsible for making ligaments in the body loose to accommodate a growing uterus. But even if the body is designed to help things stretch and expand, that doesn't always mean it will feel comfortable.

What Causes Round Ligament Pain?

Round ligaments are thick rope-like bands that attach to and support the uterus. If you imagine a line from the top of the hip down toward the groin, that's where you'd find the round ligaments. The pregnancy hormone relaxin helps these ligaments to loosen so they can stretch, but even with hormonal help, there can still be an intense strain that leads to pain.

"Round ligament pain occurs as the uterus grows and stretches during pregnancy," says Laura Purdy, M.D., MBA, board-certified family medicine physician. "The round ligaments are a pair of bands that run from either side of the uterus to the groin and, as the uterus expands, these ligaments can become stretched and strained, causing pain. Not all pregnant people experience round ligament pain, but it is a common occurrence."

When Does Round Ligament Pain Start?

According to Anar Yukhayev, M.D., assistant program director of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, round ligament pain usually starts in the second trimester. "In my experience, I've seen it most commonly between 16 to 22. That said, certain conditions can cause some pregnant women to experience it earlier in the pregnancy." It can also be felt later.

Not everyone will experience pregnancy the same, and some people may feel round ligament pain as early as the first trimester—or not at all. Remember, not everyone will experience round ligament pain, which is also considered normal and is not a sign that something is wrong.

What Does Round Ligament Pain Feel Like?

"Round ligament pain usually comes on as a sudden, sharp pelvic pain. Most pregnant people feel it in their hips or lower abdomen. It is usually one-sided, mostly on the right side. This pain could also radiate to the groin and vaginal area," says Dr. Yukhayev.

Round ligament pain is commonly felt after standing, sitting, or laying in the same position for a long period. Additionally, sudden, jerky movements like jumping can cause round ligament pain. Even sneezing, coughing, or laughing can aggravate round ligament pain.

While you can't fully prevent round ligament pain from happening, you can reduce how often you feel like it by paying attention to the times when it occurs. Here are a few tips to help reduce round ligament pain flair-ups:

  • Wear supportive, comfortable shoes if you're walking or standing for long periods
  • Do prenatal stretches and exercises to help alleviate strain on the round ligaments
  • Stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day
  • Use a body pillow to help support your belly while sleeping, which can reduce strain on the round ligaments

How Can You Treat Round Ligament Pain?

If you are experiencing round ligament pain, you are probably looking for treatment suggestions. Easing your discomfort is, more likely than not, top of mind. The good news is that most of the ways to alleviate round ligament pain are fairly straightforward. "Treatment for round ligament pain typically includes rest, gentle stretching, and pain relief measures," says Dr. Purdy. "It's important to stay hydrated and maintain good posture to help prevent or alleviate round ligament pain."

Ways to Treat Round Ligament Pain at Home

  • Move, if you've been sitting for long periods
  • Rest, if you've been up and moving for long periods
  • Use warm compresses
  • Wear a belly bands
  • Take acetaminophen as necessary (Talk to your doctor before taking any medication)
  • Do gentle yoga stretches such as cat or cow pose

You should also avoid sudden movements and heavy lifting, whenever possible, as these can aggrevate round ligament pain and/or cause it to flare up.

Should You Contact a Doctor?

Round ligament pain can be a deeply uncomfortable experience, but it is not a sign of trouble.

"Round ligament pain is not associated with other symptoms such as vaginal bleeding," says Dr. Yukhayev. "If a patient has any other symptoms that are worrisome such as a fever, chills, vaginal bleeding, pain with urination, trouble walking or pain that is persistent and or worsening, then they should call their doctor right away."

Dr. Purdy explains that symptoms such as bleeding or fevers could indicate a more serious condition, such as a urinary tract infection or preterm labor, and should be evaluated by your doctor. "It's always important to consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions during pregnancy, including about round ligament pain," says Dr. Purdy.

Bottom Line

Round ligament pain is a common and benign condition that occurs during the second half of pregnancy, when the round ligaments strain under the pressure of a growing uterus. Not every pregnant person will experience round ligament pain. Still, for those who do, a few safe and effective at-home remedies like warm compress, rest, and acetaminophen can help relieve discomfort.

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