Hip pain is common in pregnancy — it affects up to 32% of pregnant people and unfortunately is often accompanied by other aches and pains, such as low back discomfort and pelvic pain. While many pregnant people begin experiencing discomfort in the third trimester (28+ weeks pregnant), it can really begin anytime in pregnancy, as early as in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Fun times.
What causes hip pain in pregnancy?
Your body produces hormones, most notably one called Relaxin, during pregnancy that increase joint laxity, which can create instability and amplified movement through the hip joint. In order to combat this mobility, your muscles surrounding the hip joint counteract this by becoming very tight in order to compensate and attempt to achieve some stability. As a result, hip pain can often be due to tightness through the muscles, creating a deep aching sensation in the front and sides of your hips.
This causes a dull, diffuse ache, or sometimes even sharp pain, in the butt/hip/leg, usually no further than the knee. The culprit here is a glute muscle called the Piriformis, which gets tight and then squeezes the sciatic nerve, causing all sorts of fun pain. Many pregnant people will come in because they think they have sciatica when they actually have piriformis syndrome. True sciatica is actually quite uncommon during pregnancy – most of the time it’s posterior pelvic pain and piriformis syndrome that is causing the “sciatic”-like pain. Piriformis syndrome is very common in pregnancy due to the ever-changing angle of your hips, which causes tightness through the piriformis muscle and the resulting pain in the hip or leg, or butt.
On average, a pregnant person gains between 25-35lbs throughout their pregnancy. Remember, this is an average – some pregnant people will gain more and some will gain less. Our bodies are not used to this increase in weight, and our joints can tell! The added weight can increase the forces through hip joints and can put pressure on the joint, causing inflammation and swelling, leading to discomfort and pain.
Our posture changes basically every single day in pregnancy, as our bodies are changing daily. To accommodate for the growing bump, it’s common for pregnant people to begin to develop a large curve in their low back to compensate for the weight through the belly (so that they don’t fall forward due to the bump-out front!). This creates a forward rotation of the pelvis and can put more pressure through the hips, leading to muscular tightness and pain.
How can I treat my pregnancy-related hip pain?
Strengthening your hips
Hip pain can often be attributed to the laxity and instability of the hip joint. By appropriately strengthening the correct surrounding muscles, it can help prevent hip pain from occurring or reduce the hip pain that you are currently experiencing. Below are two exercises to stabilize the hip joint that can be done safely throughout your pregnancy.
- Side-lying leg lift
- Glute bridge
Tight hip and butt muscles can lead to hip pain. Performing correct stretches can help elongate the muscles, tendons, and ligaments and prevent this from happening.
- Figure 4
- Deep lunge
- Butterfly stretch
Gentle movement and mobility
We get it. Your body is sore and sitting still feels like a safe option, rather than risking more pain by moving around. However, light movement can be very beneficial to promote blood flow to the area, which can help with healing. Use your judgement here – do not participate in activities that cause you extreme pain, but gentle activities like a light walk can be super helpful for muscular aches and pains.
Heat and/or ice
Everyone is different, and some have preferences for one over the other. In general, heat will bring blood flow to an area while ice constricts blood flow to reduce inflammation and swelling. However, with pregnant bodies being as wild and wonderful as they are, it’s impossible to predict which will work for you. So try them both and decide which gives you more relief. Never heat or ice for more than 10-15 minutes and remove either modality immediately if you are experiencing burning, blistering, or numbness. We’re aiming for warm and cool here, not burnt and frostbitten.
When to seek treatment for hip pain
At West End Mamas, we believe that pregnancy does not have to hurt. If you are experiencing ANY discomfort, you should seek out advice from a physiotherapist, chiropractor, registered massage therapist, or osteopath. They can individually assess the cause of your particular hip pain and set you up with a treatment plan that will be specific to your hip discomfort.