Understanding Round Ligament Pain

Round ligament pain (RLP) is discomfort centered in the ligament that surrounds the uterus and is typically associated with pregnancy. Stress on this ligament as the fetus grows can cause stretching leading to cramping and soreness.

What is the Round Ligament?

The round ligament near the uturus, ligamentum teres uteri, begins in the parametrium and passes through the pelvis through the inguinal canal. The purpose of this ligament is to hold the uterus in proper position within the pelvis. This ligament suspends the uterus inside the abdomen, and stretches to hold the weight of the fetus during pregnancy which can result in pain. There are three other round ligaments in the human body, including one in the elbow, in the hip, and the round ligament of the liver.

Symptoms of RLP

Achiness or a sharp pain in the abdomen is a symptom of round ligament pain. The pain is typically felt on the right side of the pelvis or abdomen, and is most often a sharp or sudden pain that only lasts a moment. The discomfort due to RLP is usually acute; intense constant chronic pain is not likely to be related to the round ligament. RLP is often aggravated by exercise or simple swift movements, such as rolling over in sleep, which puts sudden stress and tension on the ligament. This issue usually disappears soon after delivery of the baby as the ligament returns to its prior thickness and the pressure subsides.

Causes of RLP

Round ligament pain is most often caused by added pressure due to the stretching of the ligament during pregnancy. As the uterus expands from the second trimester onwards the ligament stretches to hold the expanded womb. The pain is typically felt upon sudden movement which can cause an aching or sharp cramp. RLP is also sometimes experienced without pregnancy due to endometriosis, which is when uterine cells grow outside the uterus. In this case the ligament can be irritated by the growths or may stretch to hold the added weight and volume of the growths, causing soreness.

Other Causes of Abdominal Pain

During pregnancy there can be many aches and pains in the abdominal area as pressure and weight increases with the development of the fetus. Similarly, in non-gestating women, pains are sometimes felt in this region, such as cramps during exercise or due to the menstrual cycle. Some of these pains can be indicative of serious problems, such as appendicitis or ovarian cysts, while others are benign like RLP. A doctor should be consulted about any pain in this region during pregnancy, but if the discomfort is sudden and quickly passes it is likely to be common RLP or simple digestive problems such as gas which often occur during gestation.

Sudden, passing abdominal pain on the right side during the final trimesters of pregnancy that occurs upon movement is likely to be round ligament pain. It is a common complaint during pregnancy and although uncomfortable, is not harmful to mother or baby.