Painkillers weren’t an option for me
By Susan Rose
Susan had PGP in both her pregnancies and puts her personal view forward that she has found that there are ways to combat pain in PGP without using medication such as painkillers.
Like many women who have experienced PGP, I experienced the symptoms early in my pregnancy. I had Molly in June 2005 and Simon in February 2009, and during both pregnancies I found I had severe pain in my lower back, but it seemed to be worse the second time around, restricting everyday activities.
My midwife thought that it was impossible to get PGP in the first few weeks of falling pregnant and so I spent a while going backwards and forwards to my GP’s surgery to try and find out what was wrong with me. I felt pain in my lower back and sometimes experienced an odd and frightening ‘clicking’ in the front of my pelvis. I couldn’t spread my legs and sometimes I had pain shooting down my legs as well. I couldn’t do any of the sports or activities that needed good levels of fitness and, as time went on, I found even simple tasks seemed to be beyond me.
It took a while to find out what was wrong with me and it wasn’t really until I was pregnant with Simon that I found out that it was pelvic girdle pain and that it is relatively common to experience these painful symptoms. I was very relieved when we found out what the problem was, but I wasn’t offered much to help me cope by either the doctor or midwife as both felt that the symptoms would go away as soon as the baby had been born. Sadly, the symptoms didn’t subside until I found out about the Pelvic Partnership a good seven months after Simon was born. I am pleased to report that once I found a good physiotherapist (on my third attempt), the symptoms did reduce and by the end of the year that Simon was born, I was able to take up tennis again.
My mum suggested that I take some kind of painkiller when I was seven months pregnant with Simon. I did think about it but told her the next day that I really didn’t want to take anything. My decision wasn’t because I was worried that the drugs might affect the baby’s development or cause damage. I must stress that this wasn’t because I didn’t care but because I trust my doctor (I have had the same doctor for over 15 years now) and she said suitable drugs wouldn’t cause a problem to my unborn child. In fact, she took time to outline what range of drugs might be suitable for me. She made it clear that those cleared for use in pregnancy are often not particularly ‘strong’, but can minimise pain and have been used for many years in pregnancy without any adverse problems occurring. My concern over the drugs was more to do with blotting out any mechanism for telling me when I was overdoing things and unwittingly making the PGP worse. I knew that it didn’t take much for me to experience pain in my back and legs. I had always thought that the pain stopped me from doing too much and I instantly knew if I had overstepped my limits. So, for example, if I sat for too long, it was painful, if I walked for more than five minutes, my back hurt and if I tried to open my legs more than a few centimetres, I experienced quite searing pain. I was vaguely aware that the pain was a sign that I was trying to do something that my body could not take. As a result, I didn’t want to do anything that might block out my feeling of pain and encourage me to overstep the natural boundaries of what I could manage without making my reduced mobility and soreness even worse. I didn’t want to mask these warning signs and find myself unable to do anything. As mentioned, I didn’t find any suitable treatment until after Simon was born so for two pregnancies (and a sizeable period of time between the pregnancies) I coped by avoiding overdoing things and by finding equipment and aids to help me cope from day to day. I appreciate that this isn’t the approach that everyone would take but it worked for me. I knew just how much I could open my legs and just how far I could walk to avoid paying for the exertion later in the day! I also avoided anything that was too physically demanding.
Mum was great and my sister lives just up the road so I was lucky. I didn’t have to struggle with shopping because I could either order it online or my sister would get both her groceries and mine at the supermarket. I didn’t do any vacuuming because that was really painful after just five minutes. As a result, my mum would come in and put the vacuum around or I would just ignore the state of the carpet! I was able to drive but could cope with just short, local journeys and again I was very lucky to have friends who were happy to ferry me around when they took their children to the library, the cafe or the swimming pool. In return, I used to bake cakes or biscuits to say ‘thanks’.
I had quite a lot of equipment around my house and I would also think through ways of looking after the baby which wouldn’t tax my back and make the PGP worse. For example, I had a stool in the kitchen to help me ‘perch’ as I cooked or washed up. I had various handles near the bath and the bed to help my mobility and I used one of those helping-hand pickers to pick up items from the floor. Both children, as small toddlers, learnt to get up on the sofa for cuddles so I didn’t have to bend. I got friends to visit when I had to do more demanding tasks so that they could do anything physical that I didn’t dare attempt. I also used a wheelchair when there was that option in town or when we visited parks or attractions. Although I didn’t always manage it, I tried not to rush as this seemed to increase my pain. I also started to go swimming with my friend or when my husband came home from work and could look after the children. We are lucky because there is a pool at the leisure centre two streets away. I couldn’t do any proper swimming (breaststroke involved a ‘kick’ that seemed impossible) but I could manage a very gentle backstroke, and sometimes just relaxing and floating helped me feel better. I also started a longstanding habit of having a deep, warm bath in the evenings because the warmth and relaxation seemed to reduce the pain and inflammation I felt around my pelvis.
I was very frustrated that it took me so long to find the help I needed from a private physio to recover from PGP, but I think that I might have made a much slower recovery if I had used painkillers, blocked the messages about pain I was experiencing and then tried to do too much. It took me around six months, after I found good manual therapy, to really function normally again and I couldn’t enjoy any of my old sports until about two years after that (but I did avoid trying them, too, as I was scared that the old pains might return). I appreciate that this is just my viewpoint and perhaps those with very pronounced pain wouldn’t be able to manage at all without some sort of painkiller.
Thanks to Susan for sharing her story and the steps she took to reduce her experience of PGP during her pregnancies. Susan did go to talk about painkillers with her doctor and as everyone’s experience of PGP will be different – even with some elements in common – it is important to find out directly from your own manual therapist and GP what might work best for you.