Round ligament pain, have you heard of it? Do you know what it is and what causes it? If not, you are not alone. While it is common during pregnancy to feel round ligament pain, not everyone is familiar with it. In this article you will learn all about round ligament pain, what it is and what to do to help it.
Let’s start with a short anatomy lesson. The round ligament is one of my favorite ligaments because it has some very unique qualities. First, ligaments are typically made up of connective tissue, which is a strong tissue to connect two bones together. They typically do not have much give and they don’t contract or move much. Think of a piece of tape holding two separate papers together. The round ligament is located in the pelvis and attaches the uterus to the labia majora (already defying the odds of connecting an organ with soft tissue, instead of two bones). It’s sole purpose is to hold and connect the anterior portion of the uterus to the rest of the body. This round ligament is comprised of, not only connective tissue, but muscle fibers to allow it the ability to grow and adapt through pregnancy. Pregnant people have two round ligaments, one for each side. In a non-pregnant person the round ligament is about 10-12 cm, but at the end of pregnancy the round ligament can stretch up to twice that length, making it anywhere from 20-24 cm long. Are we blowing your mind yet?
The pain that is typically associated with the round ligament is a sharp pain under the belly on either side. Most commonly noticed during moments of quick movement like turning over in bed, getting up from laying down, standing from sitting, or walking or turning around quickly. The pain usually subsides quickly, allowing you to resume your activity. Some pain can be felt more in the groin area or even further down in the vagina and labia majora.
This pain is considered normal and common, however, if you bring this up to your primary care provider, which is usually an OB/GYN or Midwife, they will most likely say there isn’t much you can do about it. They may prescribe stretches and tell you to move more slowly to help it. As a prenatal chiropractor, I see many moms in my office specifically for round ligament pain who get great relief from my care. Here are some ways I have found that are the most helpful in relieving round ligament pain.
The first way to help is through chiropractic adjustments that focus on balancing the pelvis, specifically using the Webster Technique. The Webster Technique is unique to chiropractic and focuses on checking the pelvis during pregnancy to help balance it to allow better function and movement for the structure of the pelvis and surrounding organs and soft tissue that are attached. You can read more about the Webster Technique here. Considering where the round ligament attaches it can be affected by minor changes in the position of the pelvis. Chiropractic adjustments are gentle enough to be safe for mom and baby and are highly effective in improving pelvic mobility and relaxing the surrounding structures that attach, like the round ligament.
One major key in why round ligament pain occurs is due to the imbalance of the pelvis, which can add extra stress and tension on the uterus and attaching ligaments. When the pelvis is not moving as best as it can, one side may become more tight or stressed. When a pregnant person moves quickly (i.e. turning over in bed, or getting up from sitting) the ligaments contract to “hold” the uterus in it’s position, but if the pelvis is already imbalanced the stress and tension on the round ligament is greater causing pain in that area. As a reminder, pain is our body’s warning sign that something isn’t right. If we are able to balance the pelvis to restore that proper function and thus allowing the ligaments to also relax and function properly, then we get less or no pain.
At home when you feel this pain more frequently, try rubbing underneath your pregnant belly on the sides by her hip bones before you plan to move. Rubbing this area where your round ligament is will help wake it up and relax it, so there isn’t a huge shock when you do move. In a sense you are warming up the ligaments and letting them know you are about to move so they are not surprised.
Another way to help with this pain is to use stretchy athletic tape, also known as kinesiology tape. Taping the pregnant belly gives just a little extra support to your pelvis and low back. It hugs your belly, but is not restricting to movement or your growing baby. You can find out more information about taping for pregnancy in this post here. I love this option because you are able to wear this tape for a few days, it is not restricting, or constricting, and adds just enough support so your ligaments can relax.
The last way to help with round ligament pain is through stretching and foam rolling. Focus on targeting the muscles of the legs, hips, and low back. Using a foam roller on your quads, IT bands, and the lower part of the iliopsoas can really help the pelvis to relax. Foam rolling is safe during pregnancy, although it is not always easy as your get closer to your due date. If you need help on how to foam roll during pregnancy, check out this post. Static stretching is also great when focusing on the quads and hip flexors.
Having tools to help you through round ligament pain during pregnancy will help you enjoy your pregnancy more because you won’t have to worry about the pain. As mentioned before, this pain is common and you will most likely hear from your care provider that it is normal and there’s nothing they can do, but it doesn’t have to be normal and now you know what you can do to help it. You are now equipped with tools to improve round ligament pain, I hope you find these tips useful.