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Musculoskeletal symptoms and orthopaedic complications in pregnancy: pathophysiology, diagnostic approaches and modern management.

Low back pain is a common musculoskeletal symptom in pregnancy that can present as lumbar pain or pelvic girdle pain, with significant physical and psychosocial implications. Pelvic girdle pain is more prevalent and results in greater disability than lumbar pain. It is possible to distinguish between these two conditions from a detailed history based on the site of the pain, its intensity, disability and pain provocation tests. Management of low back pain in pregnancy is conservative, with physical exercise for lumbar pain and minimising activities that exacerbate pain, analgesics and bed rest for pelvic girdle pain, as well as avoiding abduction beyond the pain-free zone in labour. There is evidence that stabilising exercises in patients with pelvic girdle pain postpartum have a beneficial effect. Other treatment modalities that have been shown to be safe and effective include pelvic belts, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, spinal manipulative therapy, acupuncture and complementary therapy with yoga. Other orthopaedic complications in pregnancy such as carpal tunnel syndrome, pubic symphysis rupture, transient osteoporosis and osteonecrosis are usually self-limiting with a satisfactory outcome. However, a lack of awareness and failure to recognise these complications can result in long-term morbidity. Knowledge of the preoperative diagnostic investigations, surgical approaches and intraoperative positioning of the mother to avoid gravid uterus compression is vital in orthopaedic emergencies such as lumbar disc herniation, cauda equina syndrome, fractures and acute compartment syndrome of the lower limb to ensure a safe maternal and fetal outcome and to prevent serious disability. Pregnancy is not contraindicated in women with pre-existing orthopaedic complications such as kyphoscoliosis and total hip arthroplasty as there is no evidence to suggest increased maternal or fetal risks.

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