What Is Round Ligament Pain?

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What Is Round Ligament Pain?

Round ligament pain, which affects between 10% to 30% of pregnant women, is a common discomfort of pregnancy. During the second trimester, the ligament that runs from your uterus to your groin is stretched, causing a sharp, stabbing pain or dull, achy pain.

Round ligament pain usually comes on suddenly when you change positions, cough, sneeze, or laugh, and typically goes away quickly. Other than causing discomfort, it is not harmful for you or the health of your baby.

Treating round ligament pain
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon 

Symptoms

Growing a baby takes a toll on your body, creating a range of surprising and often uncomfortable symptoms. Perhaps one of the most alarming symptoms for first-time parents may be round ligament pain, which feels like quick, sharp, stabbing pain in the abdomen, groin, or hip area. It can also be experienced as a persistent, dull ache.

Everyone experiences round ligament pain differently. Symptoms may also be described as:

  • A pulling sensation down your sides and groin
  • Brief, shooting pains around your growing belly
  • Stabbing pain on the right side of your pelvis
  • Discomfort on the left side or both sides of your abdomen
  • Increased pain when you change positions suddenly, or when you cough, laugh, or sneeze

If you do feel round ligament pain, try to remain calm. It's a normal part of pregnancy and will quickly dissipate. Most round ligament pain lasts for a few seconds and usually ceases as soon as you change positions, stop the activity you're doing, or get up from sitting or lying down. 

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

When to Call the Doctor

If you have round ligament pain with any of the following symptoms, contact your provider right away, as these may be signs of a more serious condition.

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

Diagnosis

Your OB-GYN will likely mention round ligament pain during one of your routine prenatal appointments. If they don’t bring it up, definitely mention that 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 often diagnose round ligament pain by exclusion or the process of elimination.

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 including:

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 the size of 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.

As your belly grows, the following activities can all result in round ligament pain:

  • Being on your feet and on the move for long stretches
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Doing activities that are vigorous or require rapid movement
  • Laughing
  • Poor posture

Treatment

While there's no official treatment for round ligament pain, 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.

In addition, the following steps can help relieve the achy or sharp pain you are feeling.

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. 

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.

Go For a Swim

Swimming is a great way to exercise during pregnancy, because the water supports your body to relieve pressure on your ligaments and joints.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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 specific things. Track when you have more discomfort, and try limiting those activities. Taking it easy can help reduce the frequency of pain.

Take a Warm Bath or Shower

Warm water (not hot) can help alleviate some of the discomfort 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. 

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.

Try Massage

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

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.

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. 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.

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  1. Zachariah SK, Fenn M, Jacob K, Arthungal SA, Zachariah SA. Management of acute abdomen in pregnancy: current perspectives. Int J Womens Health. 2019;11:119-134. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S151501

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