How to Help Round Ligament Pain

Causes, Diagnosis, and Tips

In This Article
Table of Contents

Growing a baby takes a toll on your body, creating a range of surprising and often uncomfortable symptoms. One of the most alarming for first-time parents may be round ligament pain, which causes brief shooting pains around your growing belly.

However, round ligament pain is quite common and usually not anything to worry about from a medical point of view. It hurts, but it doesn't harm your health or the health of your baby at all.

Overview

Pregnant women most often report round ligament pain during the second trimester. This pain is experienced as a quick, sharp, stabbing pain or achy soreness in the abdomen, groin, or hip area.

Typically, you will feel this pain on the right side of your pelvis, but you may also experience discomfort on the left side or both sides of your abdomen. If you do feel this pain, while it can be a bit startling, try to remain calm. It's a normal part of pregnancy and the shoots of pain usually last for just a few seconds at a time before dissipating.

As with any discomfort, visit your doctor to confirm that what you are experiencing is round ligament pain rather than another condition that needs attention.

Treating round ligament pain
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Causes

Your uterus is supported on either side by cordlike round ligaments in the pelvis. These ligaments connect the front of the uterus to the groin region. As the uterus grows (from about the size of a pear to a watermelon) and becomes heavier, these ligaments stretch, soften, and pull on adjacent nerves, all of which can cause pain. 

“[Round ligament pain] can occur from awakening, turning in bed, coughing, laughing, or any other type of physical activity,” explains Dr. Lisa M. Valle, DO, a gynecologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. You may also get a sudden, sharp pain when doing activities that are vigorous or require rapid movement. 

Poor posture can also contribute to round ligament pain. When your spine and hips are out of alignment, this can put more pressure on your ligaments exacerbating discomfort. Being on your feet and on the move for long stretches can also contribute to round ligament pain.

But while the sharp pain can definitely be distracting, it doesn’t last for very long.

Most round ligament pain lasts for a few seconds and usually ceases as soon as you change the position you’re in, stop the activity you're doing, or get up from sitting or lying down. It can also be experienced as a persistent dull ache.

Think of round ligament pain as a signal to move and rest, as once you adjust your body's position and/or take a break, the discomfort should quickly ease up.

Diagnosis

Since round ligament pain most often occurs during the second trimester, your doctor will likely mention it at one of your routine prenatal appointments. 

If they don’t bring it up, definitely ask if you are experiencing these symptoms. Your doctor will want to assess your pain level to make sure what you’re experiencing falls within the normal range and isn't something more serious. 

Doctors reach a diagnosis of round ligament pain by exclusion or the process of elimination. That’s why Dr. Valle says that if you’re experiencing continuing discomfort or if you’re feeling severe pain, you should contact your obstetrician or midwife to verify that it really is round ligament pain and to rule out other causes. 

Tips

While the discomfort you experience from round ligament pain can be irritating, fortunately, there are things you can do to help relieve the achy, sharp pain. 

Change Your Position

Like many other pains felt during pregnancy, if you’re experiencing round ligament pain, your first course of action is to change the position of your body until you are comfortable. When lying on your side, you may find relief by using pillows to support your stomach. You can also try sleeping with a pillow between your legs. 

Stop What You’re Doing

If you feel a sudden pain, stop or change the activity you’re doing until you feel comfortable. You may find that certain exercises or physical activities trigger pain more than others.

Many women experience more round ligament pain on more active days or when doing certain things, such as exercise. Track when you have more discomfort and try limiting those activities. Taking it easy can help reduce the frequency of pain.

Move Slowly

Fast, jerky movements are more likely to trigger round ligament pain. A good rule of thumb, says Dr. Valle, is to move slowly and with purpose. If you notice an increase in pain during a particular movement, slow down to see if that helps. Try not to reach or stretch too far as those movements put extra stress on your ligaments. 

Use a Heating Pad

Heat works wonders. Apply a warm (not hot) heating pad to the area where you’re feeling pain. If you’re unsure about applying direct heat to your abdominal area, always talk with your doctor first. You can also try a warm, wet compress.

Take a Warm Bath or Shower

Warm water (not hot) can help alleviate some of the discomforts from round ligament pain. Keep the temperature lower since extreme heat can be dangerous to your baby. When in doubt, ask your doctor if taking warm baths is safe during your pregnancy. 

Consider Wearing a Maternity Belt

Dr. Valle says some people find that wearing a maternity support belt helps relieve pressure by providing firm yet gentle support.

Try Gentle Stretches

Your obstetrician or midwife may recommend stretching exercises or prenatal yoga. Experiment with movements that feel good to you. If anything hurts, simply stop and try a different pose or stretch until you find ones that work for you.

Pay Attention to Posture

Aim to keep your back straight, shoulders back, and your head, shoulders, and hips in alignment. Better posture reduces some of the pressure on your ligaments.

Try Massage

Lightly massaging the area of discomfort can sometimes help reduce discomfort.

Flex Your Hips

During a coughing or sneezing spell, consider flexing your hips before the next cough or sneeze. This may reduce the pull on the ligaments and help prevent more shoots of pain. 

Put Up Your Feet

If the pain is happening while standing or sitting, consider putting your feet up. Getting your feet off the ground can relieve some of the pressure on the round ligaments and reduce your discomfort.

Swim

Swimming is a great way to exercise, while also supporting your body to relieve pressure on your ligaments and joints.

Try Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relief

Taking an OTC pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help relieve discomfort. Make sure, however, to talk with your doctor prior to taking any medication or supplement.

When to Call the Doctor

If you have round ligament pain with any of the following symptoms, contact your provider right away:

  • Sharp pains that don't go away
  • Severe pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Four or more contractions in an hour
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Burning with urination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Unusual low back pain

A Word From Verywell

Round ligament pain is very common during pregnancy, so don’t be surprised if you experience some symptoms, especially during the second trimester. While the pain may be sharp enough to stop you in your tracks, there are a variety of simple strategies you can try to help relieve some of the pressure and discomfort.

The good news is once you move to the third trimester, the pain typically gets better, and for some women, it even goes away. 

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