What Round Ligament Pain Feels Like—and How to Find Relief
March 25, 2021
Oh, pregnancy: While it’s a journey that’s filled with lots of joy, it can also be fraught with lots of aches and pains. Round ligament pain, or the sharp sensation felt shooting from your lower abdomen into your groin, can be a major source of discomfort. The good news? “The pain is fairly common, intermittent and usually disappears on its own within a few weeks,” explains Frederick Friedman, Jr., MD, director of obstetrics at The Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “You can also be reassured that it’s a normal physiologic process that has absolutely no bearing on the rest of your pregnancy.” The not-so-good news? You’re probably just gonna have to wait it out. But that doesn’t mean you can’t research the heck out of it in the meantime.
Round ligaments are rope-like structures that run from the top of each side of the uterus and insert into the groin, explains Kameelah Phillips, ob-gyn and founder of Calla Women’s Health in New York City. “This anatomy is important because when pregnant women have pain, they classically point along the direction of this ligament,” she adds. During pregnancy, these ligaments get stretched as the uterus grows, which can cause nerve spasms and shooting pains. (Fun stuff, right?) So when does round ligament pain start? It usually sets in at the very end of your first trimester or early part of your second trimester, when your uterus begins to push out of the pelvis. It almost never starts before 12 weeks of pregnancy.
So how can you tell if the discomfort you’re feeling is round ligament pain? It typically feels like a throbbing, pulling, aching or shooting pain that runs from the side of your mid-abdomen and radiates down into your groin. It’s also more commonly felt on the right side, Friedman says, even though the ligaments exist on both sides of the body. (Doctors aren’t quite sure why!) Round ligament pain can happen at any time, but it’s often triggered by sudden or jerky movements like sitting up to get out of bed or even sneezing.
One upside is that round ligament pain is fairly short lived, both in terms of how long each episode lasts and how long it lasts during your pregnancy. When you get a shooting pain, it’ll usually only last for a few seconds or minutes. “Rarely does it last longer,” says Phillips, “although it can come and go.”
The intermittent pain will also generally ease up a few weeks after it begins: It typically starts around 12 to 14 weeks as your bump starts to make its way out of the uterus, and then goes away by 16 weeks, although sometimes the pain will last a little longer. “Although your uterus continues to grow after this, the fibers that caused the initial pain have already been stretched and probably no longer transmit pain,” Friendman explains.
Hate to break it to you, but this is probably one of those things you’re just going to have to get through. (It doesn’t last forever, promise!) But there are a few things you can do to help relieve round ligament pain. First of all, stop doing whatever the activity was that provoked the pain! If you were working out, it might be time to ease up. If you were getting out of bed, try rolling over and pushing up with your arms. Even bending over when you sneeze can help, Phillips says. A warm compress, stretching (Cat Cow pose and pelvic tilts can be particularly good) and—if the pain is intense—Tylenol are also options to help get you through the discomfort.
Here’s the thing: Round ligament pain during pregnancy can be uncomfortable, but it should go away quickly or respond to a warm compress, rest or Tylenol, Phillips explains. If you’re experiencing what you’re chalking up to be constant round ligament pain, you should call your OB, because there’s a chance it’s actually not round ligament pain. You’ll also want to get checked out ASAP if the pain is preventing you from doing normal activities or comes along with other symptoms (like nausea, vomiting, chills, bleeding, leaking, etc). Otherwise, it’s always a good idea to bring it up at your next scheduled appointment. “We like to know about anything that’s persistent,” Friedman says. “Sometimes it’s absolutely nothing to worry about, but we do want to know if there’s a complaint that’s ongoing.”
About the experts:
Frederick Friedman, Jr., MD, is an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. He serves as director for both the division of obstetrics and the division of generalists in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Health System.
Kameelah Phillips, MD, IBCLC, is an ob-gyn in New York City and founder of Calla Women’s Health, her private practice. She received her medical degree from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She is also a member of the International Board of Lactation Consultants and is especially interested in the areas of prenatal care, lactation, sexual health and menopause.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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