What Round Ligament Pain Feels Like—and How to Find Relief
August 14, 2020
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. To that end, we’re answering all your top questions: Where do you feel round ligament pain? When does it typically begin? And is there anything you can do to alleviate the discomfort? Read on for the full lowdown on round ligament pain.
In this article:
What is round ligament pain?
What does round ligament pain feel like?
How long does round ligament pain last?
How to ease round ligament pain
What to do for severe round ligament pain
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. So what is round ligament pain caused by? During pregnancy, these ligaments get stretched as the uterus grows, which can lead to nerve spasms and shooting pains. (Fun stuff, right?)
You want to be prepared for what’s to come, and you’re likely wondering: “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 the 12th week of pregnancy.
So how can you tell if the discomfort you’re feeling is round ligament pain? And exactly where do you feel 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. Strenuous activity—or lots of movement—can also contribute to round ligament pain, so you may need to slow down for a while.
The good news is that round ligament pain is fairly short lived, both in terms of how long each episode lasts and how long it continues during your pregnancy. When you get a shooting pain, it’ll usually only affect you 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.
We 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!) And while you can’t entirely prevent or stop round ligament pain, there are a few things you can do to help relieve it. 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.
You can also try the following tips to help ease your round ligament pain:
- Change positions. Sometimes, a particular position can incite round ligament pain. Try slowly moving around a bit, and see if changing positions helps ease the discomfort.
- Prepare for sudden movements. Feel a sneeze or cough coming on? Prepare for these sudden movements by flexing your hips.
- Rest up. Sudden movements or vigorous activity can cause round ligament pain, so try slowing down, moving intentionally and giving your body a break, as needed. You’re working hard, so show yourself grace and kindness.
- Try gentle stretches. Feeling a lot of round ligament pain? A bit of gentle stretching or some prenatal yoga poses may help. Try putting your hands and knees on the floor and lowering your head to the ground while keeping your bottom up in the air, suggests the American Pregnancy Association.
- Get some extra support. Need a minute? Rest on your left side with a pillow under your belly for added support. You can also try a maternity belt—it may ease some of the pressure on your pelvis and ligaments.
- Take acetaminophen. You can also take acetaminophen to help get you through the discomfort, says the Mayo Clinic. Of course, since episodes of round ligament pain are usually short lived, you might try a few other options first.
- Try warm compression. Applying a warm compress can provide some relief from round ligament pain. (Just make sure the compress or heating pad is not hot.)
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.
It should go away fairly quickly, so if you aren’t sure whether you’re experiencing round ligament pain or abdominal distress, pause what you’re doing and rest. Pay close attention to how your body feels and ask yourself a few questions: Does something seem to be triggering the pain? Is it continuous or periodic? A quick evaluation can help you determine if the discomfort you’re having is, in fact, round ligament pain.
If you’re experiencing what you chalk up to be severe or constant round ligament pain, call your OB. There’s a chance it’s actually not round ligament pain. Abdominal pain can be indicative of other pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, placenta abruption or preterm labor. It could also be a symptom of something entirely unrelated to pregnancy, such as appendicitis. You’ll also want to get checked out ASAP if the pain is preventing you from doing normal activities, or if it’s accompanied by other troubling symptoms, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever or chills
- Difficulty walking
- Pain when urinating
- Lower back pain
- Intense pelvic pressure
- Regular and consistent contractions
Of course, pregnancy is trying on your body; it’s very possible you may just be experiencing round ligament pain or the regular aches and discomfort that come with growing a human. Still, it’s always a good idea to bring any discomfort to your doctor’s attention. “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, director of obstetrics at The Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. He received his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York.
Kameelah Phillips, ob-gyn and founder of Calla Women’s Health in New York City. She received her medical degree at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
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.