Health: Treating debilitating pregnancy condition

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Many mums-to-be suffer pain, but for some it can affect their lives severely. Katie Baldwin reports on what can help.

pregnancy can bring with it a whole host of unusual ailments, aches and pains. One which troubles many mums-to-be is pain in the lower back, especially as they reach the third trimester and the size of their baby bump increases.

But having pain in the pelvis bad enough to disrupt everyday life, or earlier in pregnancy, is not normal.

However this condition, known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP), can sometimes be dismissed by GPs or other health workers as something that women simply have to live with.

Jenny Heron, a senior physiotherapist and director of Physiofit in Horsforth, Leeds, said: “Some midwives and even GPs can be dismissive of these joint pains, but there is help available.”

She said PGP affected up to 70 per cent of women during pregnancy, with symptoms ranging from mild discomfort on certain movements to severe pain with all activities.

The 20 per cent most badly affected could even end up needing to use crutches or a wheelchair.

That’s what happened to Lucy Senior during her first pregnancy, with daughter Poppy, now three.

She was just nine weeks pregnant when she was struck with such severe pain that she was signed off work, with her GP thinking she had slipped a disc in her back.

“I was in uncontrollable pain and I was really panicking with it,” she said.

“I had not even had a scan at that point. It’s a misconception that it’s due to the weight of the baby. It was down to hormones that I was affected early on.”

Lucy, from Cookridge, Leeds, saw her GP, midwife and an NHS physiotherapist, who were unable to offer any support.

Her breakthrough came when she discovered the Pelvic Partnership, a charity which provides information and support to those suffering from PGP, and which she says is “amazing”.

Through the organisation, she was pointed towards Physiofit, where specialist women’s health physiotherapists can treat the condition.

That helped her symptoms, though she had to use crutches and sometimes a wheelchair later on, and was signed off work for the rest of her pregnancy.

“It’s like a severe, sharp nerve pain where I couldn’t weight-bear at all.

“When I stood up it was like having a knife going into my pelvis and I couldn’t put any weight down. Even sitting and lying down was virtually unbearable.”

The 32-year-old was also one of the rare sufferers whose symptoms do not get disappear after their baby is born, and she continued treatment with specialist glucose injections and physiotherapy.

After much consideration, Lucy and her husband Chris decided to have another child, and she has a programme of treatment and support in place.

“It’s important to get manual therapy as soon as possible, which the NHS just doesn’t provide,” she said.

“I am going to see Jenny every week now and she keeps everything symmetrical and where it should be. I’m a lot more prepared this time and I’m not trying to push myself.”

She advised any other women affected to seek help: “Medical staff don’t understand the level of pain,” she said.

Jenny, from Physiofit, said: “Pain is felt at the sacro-iliac joints in the lower back or at the pubic bone. Pain may also be felt in the groin, inner thighs, buttocks and hips. The pain is usually worse with turning over in bed, climbing stairs and walking. There may be clicking or grinding of the pelvic joints, or a feeling of instability when moving.

“Treatment is more effective if it is started early and involves manual therapy techniques such as massage, and joint mobilisation combined with stabilising exercises. A pelvic stabilisation belt and acupuncture can help with pain relief.”

Exercise can also assist, either prescribed or walking, swimming or aquanatal –though some activities, like breaststroke and some yoga moves, are best avoided.

And Jenny’s advice to mums with PGP is to consider a water birth, or avoid being on their back during delivery.

Visit: www.physiofitleeds.co.uk

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