Many pregnant women experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy–and it is not always caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. In fact, 3 percent of women who are pregnant will experience pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which is caused by joint problems in the pelvic area region of the body. Muscles and joints are more likely to move unevenly, change positions, or become instable in expectant mothers, causing this joint pain. Because PGP usually occurs during pregnancy–due to the body’s hormones causing the ligaments in the body to relax to prepare the mother for birth–it can also go by another name: pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PGP). However, due to the similarities between PGP and other medical conditions that involve back pain (e.g. sciatica), many cases of back problems in expectant mothers are misdiagnosed as something else when a more apt abbreviation applies: PGP. Learn the difference between pelvic girdle pain and sciatica to avoid a misdiagnosis.
What is Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP)?
Pelvic girdle pain (PGP), sometimes referred to by its former name, symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), is characterized by pain in the joints that make up the pelvic girdle: the bony structure near your hips that is responsible for supporting your legs. These many joints and bones include the coccyx, sacrym, sacroiliac joint, hip joint and symphysis pubis joint–any of which can become stiff and cause irritation. The pain felt by joint irritation is often experienced in the front or back of the pelvis.
Why the Confusion? Similarities Between PGP and Sciatica
PGP and sciatica are both back pain conditions that have more than just a risk factor of pregnancy in common. Let’s take a look:
Level of Pain: Just like with sciatica, the level of pain felt during PPGP varies. Depending on the individual, the discomfort could range anywhere from mild to severe pain that hinders mobility.
Activities that Worsen Pain: During pregnancy, the baby’s weight as well as the mother’s posture and changing center of gravity as the baby grows can contribute to both sciatica and PGP pain. In addition, standing and getting out of bed can aggravate symptoms.
The Difference between Pelvic Girdle Pain and Sciatica
Location, location, location. Medical professionals may be quick to generalize back pain as sciatica without paying attention to a key way to identify a disorder: narrow in on where it hurts. While sciatica pain is usually present in the lower back, moving to the hips and down one leg, PGP pain is located elsewhere in the body. PGP pain (from mild to severe) can be located in any of the following areas:
- Pubic bone area
- Perineum (area between the vagina and anus)
- Lower abdomen
- Lower back
- Inner thighs
While the pain of PGP and sciatica overlap in places–like the lower back and hips–PGP covers more of the pelvic bone region. PGP also does not parallel sciatica’s one-sidedness: sciatica tends to affect the legs, however, only one of them, the right or the left. PCP also affects the front of the body whereas sciatica pain tends to travel down the back of the thighs and legs. Another dissimilarity is the type of pain felt: while sciatica symptoms include numbness and tingling, PPGP does not. PPGP also has more of a reputation to linger or show up after birth–unlike sciatica.
Other Symptoms of PGP Include:
- Pain (from mild to severe) located in any of the following areas: pubic bone area, groin, buttocks, hips, lower abdomen, and/or lower back or inner thighs.
- Audible clicking or grinding in pelvic area
- Increased pain during the following activities: standing, walking up stairs, moving legs apart, and turning in bed.