Pelvic Girdle Pain: Why Your Doc Might Be Wrong About Sciatica

The stories from women are all similar in nature.  One day, later on in their pregnancies (usually during the third trimester) women suddenly experience an intense pain shooting through their lower pelvic area, butt, and or thighs.  The pain is so intense that they are immediately crippled often unable to move.  These women then consult their friends: what could explain this bizarre, sudden pain? their answer: sciatica.  They read pregnancy forums and articles and research everything they can about their symptoms on the internet…the consensus: sciatica.  The women ask their doctors or midwives…their answer, you guessed it: sciatica.

So, like most women in this situation they begin to treat the pain by doing everything that is supposed to help provide relief from sciatica.  But instead of helping all these treatments make the pain WORSE!  This is when many women become upset, confused and depressed.  They were hoping that having a diagnosis and knowing what they can do to treat the sympotms would provide them relief but instead everything seems to be getting worse and no one knows how to help them.  This can be intensely frustrating and scary for women have been told over and over again that they have sciatica yet something must be wrong because everything isn’t quite adding up.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of these women do not have sciatica; they have pelvic girdle pain also called sacro-iliac joint pain because that is the name of the joint at which all the problems occur.  In fact, it is estimated that only 1% of women have sciatica during pregnancy; most lower back or leg pain during pregnancy is pelvic girdle pain (Ostgaard et al 1994).


What Is Pelvic Girdle Pain?

Pelvic girdle pain is a condition that can happen to pregnant women when the sacro-iliac joint is tilted or out of alignment resulting in pelvic discomfort.  Usually, the more tilted or out of alignment, the more pain.

Symptoms of Pelvic Girdle Pain

Pelvic girdle pain is often one-sided usually concentrated in your butt.  But, it is often accompanied by general lower back pain or pain down the back of the legs.  Some women may also have pain in their hips.  The symptoms of pelvic girdle pain are very similar to sciatica.

  • With sciatica, pain usually radiates all the way down the legs even into the lower legs and feet.  Pelvic girdle pain is usually more localized to the pelvis.
  • With sciatica, the pain is usually on one side.  Pelvic girdle pain can be on one side or both.
  • With sciatica, the pain comes and goes and can be experienced as numbness.  Pelvic girdle pain is more consistent and doesn’t feel like numbness.

Differences Between Sciatica and Pelvic Girdle Pain

Most women who discover that they have pelvic girdle pain and not sciatica, do so by trying common pain relief techniques for sciatica only to find they don’t work or make the pain worse.  Here are some major differences in treatment:

  • Rest: for sciatica it is recommended NOT to sit still or lie down for long periods of time and to try to keep moving.  With pelvic girdle pain you should try to get as much rest as possible.
  • Exercise: light exercise is recommended for sciatica but if you have severe PGP you should not exercise or take it very easy if you do.
  • Treatment Options: for sciatica there aren’t many treatments that are safe for pregnant women but there is plenty you can do to help relieve pelvic girdle pain ( more on that down below)
  • Duration: when getting the diagnosis of sciatica, most people are told that it is a lifelong condition and is not specifically pregnancy related meaning you could have always had it or it was injury-induced and pregnancy just made it worse.  However, pelvic girdle pain will go away soon after delivery.

Treatments for Pelvic Girdle Pain

  1. Rest: You might not need to go on bed rest, but try to take it easy and relax when you can.
  2. Frequent body work treatments: chiropractic, physiotherapy, osteopathy, and physical therapy.
  3. Pillows: if you don’t already have one, get a pregnancy pillow.  Pillows can help you sleep and lie down much more comfortably.
  4. No heels: High heels can make this condition worse.  Take yours in for cute and comfy flats.
  5. A belly band: use a belly band for extra support for your back and pelvis.
  6. Ice: Ice can bring some relief by numbing the pain.





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