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What is the Pubic Symphysis?

By Katriena Knights
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Located at the center front of the pubic bone, the pubic symphysis is a cartilaginous joint that holds together the left and right halves of the front portion of the pelvis. On either side of this joint are the left and right superior pubic ramus, the inferior pubic ramus and the obturator foramen. The former two are portions of the pubic bone, and the latter is the opening in the front of the pelvis through which various nerves and ligaments pass to serve organs located within the pelvis, such as the bladder. Some ligaments that attach to the pubic symphysis help support the reproductive organs — for example, the ligament that supports the penis attaches to this area of the pelvis.

Though the pubic symphysis does not allow the wide range of movement of most joints in the body, its cartilaginous nature does allow the pubic bones to shift during walking and other common movement and allows the pelvic girdle to expand slightly during childbirth. During pregnancy, a specialized hormone called relaxen softens the cartilage of the pubic symphysis, allowing it to move a few millimeters more so that the infant may pass more easily through the pelvic girdle. Before the caesarean section was made possible by the discovery of antibiotics and more advanced surgical techniques, the pubic symphysis was sometimes separated surgically to allow for birth of a baby whose head was too large to pass through the mother's pelvis. This method occasionally still is used in emergencies when a modern operating facility is not available to perform a caesarean section and the lives of the mother or child are endangered by a mismatch between the size of the mother's pelvis and the size of the infant.

Many woman experience pubic bone pain through the latter part of pregnancy and sometimes for a short time after delivery because of the action of hormones on the pubic symphysis through pregnancy and childbirth. This pain is most noticeable while walking, while moving into a standing position or while getting dressed. Treatment often involves stabilizing the pelvis with a special binder, applying moist heat and reducing activities that cause discomfort. Severe pubic bone pain is known as pubic symphysis diastasis and usually occurs because of a misalignment or malfunction of this joint. If the pubic symphysis has actually separated completely or torn, special treatment is necessary, and it usually involves surgical repair.

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Discussion Comments
By ganguri962 — On Jun 06, 2012

What is the treatment procedure for pubic diastasis symphysis?

By ElizaBennett — On Jul 24, 2011

@SailorJerry - Tell your wife to hang in there! Soon, all those complaints of late pregnancy--pelvic pain, heartburn, never being able to stand more than fifty feet from the toilet--will just be a distant memory and she'll have your baby in her arms.

The answer to your question, how do they know, is that they don't. Head too big for the pelvis is called cephalopelvic disproportion, and it's quite rare. It's one possible diagnosis when labor stalls out.

Midwives think that true cephalopelvic disproportion is incredibly rare. They have a lot of tricks to get the baby to move through the pelvis. When a women in labor changes position, the shape and size of her pelvis change, too, so a different position can often get the baby through. Or the baby might be awkwardly position, and midwives have techniques for resolving that as well.

OBs can be great, but they are surgeons. They're not usually as into the nitty-gritty of getting out a stuck baby and are more likely to find a C-section necessary. As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

By SailorJerry — On Jul 23, 2011

My wife is pregnant with our first right now and she has really been complaining of pelvic pain in late pregnancy. I'm glad it will be over soon for her!

My question is about the size of the pelvis and the baby. How do they know whether the baby's head will fit through the pelvis? My wife told me she knows a lady who first baby was delivered by C-section because she was told that the baby had too big a head. But then later, the woman had another baby delivered vaginally, and it actually had a bigger head! How is that possible?

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