Women's Healthcare Topics

Am I Having Round Ligament Pain?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

What is Round Ligament Pain?

As your belly grows larger in pregnancy, you may experience a dull ache or a sharp, piercing pain in your groin or lower abdomen area. This abdominal discomfort is called round ligament pain, and it's a common pregnancy symptom to expect in the second trimester. Although these pains can occur at the end of your first trimester, they are most common between 18 and 24 weeks.

Round ligament pain can be painful, but it's usually just uncomfortable. This symptom may strike when you're changing positions, coughing, or even when you roll over in bed. The dull ache or stabbing pain that you feel should only last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. The abdominal achiness (which is how many pregnant women describe round ligament pain) is typically felt on the right side of the pelvis, although it can also be felt on the left.

Having stomach pains in pregnancy can be worrisome, but round ligament pain is a universal experience and is caused by physical changes that occur in pregnancy. If you find that your abdominal achiness bothers you, or you think it might be something more serious, don't hesitate to call your doctor or healthcare provider.

Learn about a pregnancy discomfort called round ligament pain.

What Does Round Ligament Pain Feel Like?

Round ligament pain is often described as sharp belly pains or abdominal achiness. Every pregnant woman feels this sensation differently. The severity of your ligament pains can be mild or severe. Some women only have mild belly pains or abdominal achiness, while others have intense pain.

Common signs of round ligament pain include the following:

  • Ligament spasms or cramps that trigger a sharp pain, usually felt on the right side of your belly. This is due to the normal tendency of your uterus to turn towards the right.

  • Sharp pains in your abdomen that are brought on from exercise or another vigorous activity.

  • The ache of round ligament pain can start from deep inside your groin, moving upward and outward, toward the top of the hips.

  • Sharp pain that wakes you up in the middle of the night when you accidentally roll over the wrong way.

While round ligament pain during pregnancy is uncomfortable, it's normal and the pain will go away after several minutes or after you take a short rest.

What Causes Round Ligament Pain?

Round ligament pain is caused by the physical stretching of your uterus in pregnancy. As your baby grows larger in your belly, the round ligaments (which are strong bands of connective tissue that hold your uterus in place in your abdomen) must stretch to accommodate the growth.

Before you became pregnant, your uterus was only the size of an apple or pear. During pregnancy, your uterus (also called the womb) will expand greatly in size – as large as a watermelon by the time your baby is born. As your uterus gets larger and larger, the round ligaments that support it must stretch and become longer and thinner. During this process of stretching, lengthening, and thinning, the round ligaments can irritate nearby nerve fibers, which cause the abdominal achiness and sharp pains of round ligament pain.

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When to Call the Doctor?

Pregnancy and round ligament pain typically go hand-in-hand. However, abdominal pain can be worrisome, especially if this is your first pregnancy. As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to contact your doctor or midwife if you experience belly pains that don't go away within a few minutes, or they are accompanied with the following:

  • Excruciating pain or cramping.

  • Frequent contractions (four or more in an hour), even if they are not painful.

  • Low back discomfort or pain, or a sensation that your baby is pushing down in the pelvic area.

  • Vaginal bleeding, spotting, or a change in your normal vaginal discharge.

  • Discomfort, pain, or a burning sensation when you urinate.

  • Nausea or vomiting.

  • Fever or chills.

The above symptoms may indicate that there is something else to blame. For example, frequent contractions, low back pain, and a change in your discharge may indicate that you're in preterm labor. Experiencing pain or a burning sensation when you urinate may signal that you have a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Round Ligament Pain Treatment

If the abdominal achiness that you're feeling is truly round ligament pain, just try to relax when the pain strikes. In most cases, a short rest will relieve your symptoms. However, if you find that your pain is that bothersome, you can take some acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce the severity of your discomfort. Acetaminophen is considered one of the safer pain relievers to take in pregnancy.

You may also get some relief from the discomfort by placing a heating pad to the uncomfortable area. A warm bath may also relieve your achiness. Some women also cope with round ligament pain by lying on the opposite side of the pain.

Many women will find relief from round ligament pain simply by altering their daily routines. For example, very active pregnant women will cut back on their exercise level.

Keep in mind that round ligament pain may last through your second and third trimester. The good news is round ligament pain will disappear completely once you have given birth to your child!

Other Causes of Stomach Pains in Pregnancy

Round ligament pain is often mistaken for other medical conditions because the symptoms are similar. Acute abdominal pain during pregnancy may also be a sign of other conditions including:

  • Appendicitis – A serious medical condition that occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. This condition is most often characterized by nausea, vomiting, fever and worsening pain. You may also have little appetite. Typically this pain is felt higher in the abdomen than the tummy pain associated with the round ligament.

  • Ovarian Cysts – The ovaries sometimes contain cysts that may be painful. At other times an ovary may twist, causing severe abdominal pain.

  • Abdominal cramps – Some abdominal pain is simply caused by change in bowel habits associated with pregnancy.


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