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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 13:58 GMT
Pregnant women's painful dilemma
by Thelma Etim
BBC News Online, Southampton

Sarah and Cameron Fishburn
Mother-of-three Sarah Fishburn with two-year-old Cameron.

A crippling pelvic condition suffered by pregnant women left one sufferer feeling so debilitated that she set up her own support group.

Mother-of-three Sarah Fishburn, founded the Pelvic Partnership at her Oxfordshire home to support the growing number of women diagnosed with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD).

One in 35 pregnant women in the county suffer from the condition, which can be mild and cause difficulty in walking, or leave a sufferer needing crutches and a wheelchair.

The figures for the number of sufferers were collated by physiotherapists at John Radcliffe Hospital, which treats mothers-to-be suffering severe pain during their pregnancy term.

Suffering in silence

Since Mrs Fishburn established her organisation at home in Harwell, near Didcot, in 2002, membership has grown from just 30 mothers to 350.

SPD, diagnosed during pregnancy, usually affects women aged between 18 and 45.

The softening of the ligaments in the pelvic area causes the pain and discomfort when walking, and can last for three months or up to a year in serious cases following the birth of a child.

What is so shocking is the fact that people told me this kind of pain was normal
SPD sufferer Sarah Fishburn

The support group raises awareness of SPD by producing leaflets and has just received a 4,685 from the National Lottery.

Mrs Fishburn has suffered from the condition since the birth of her first daughter Rosemary, who is now five.

She said when she first complained to her GP about her pelvic pains, she was told "it was nothing to worry about" and that she would quickly recover.

Women working longer

But the pain became so extreme she could not even carry her daughter and was forced to do her weekly shopping on the internet.

It was only when Rosemary was 14-months-old that Mrs Fishburn decided to see a physiotherapist who began manipulating her joints.

She eventually began to experience some relief from the pain, which had turned her life upside down.

She said: "What is so shocking is the fact that people told me this kind of pain was normal. Some sufferers who cannot walk or drive become housebound. It is very isolating.

Physiotherapists at John Radcliffe Hospital are seeing more SPD cases
"In the past, the symptoms were dismissed as the normal aches and pains of pregnancy but now things are changing."

Mrs Fishburn uses crutches and a wheelchair to get around.

Mr Michael Gilmer, a consultant obstetrician at John Radcliffe, said it was a "mystery" why SPD is becoming more common.

He said: "SPD cases have become more severe in recent years for no apparent reason.

"We see a lot of patients with it and we refer more of them to physiotherapists."

But Jane Newman, a women's health physiotherapist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, believes there may be a link between SPD and women working longer into their pregnancy.

Hence the dilemma facing many women who experience the early symptoms of the condition, but want to continue working.

She said: "A lot of women push through the pain and carry on working.

"If you push it, you make the instability of the pelvis worse, which aggravates the problem."

Mrs Fishburn added: "I am trying to get the condition recognised at an earlier stage during pregnancy so women can manage the birth well and experience short-term recovery."

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