What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is a condition where the gap between each side of the Rectus Abdominal muscles, [the “six pack”], stretches as a result of intra-abdominal pressure. This can happen to anyone post-injury or recovering from surgery, but it’s most common in women postpartum. The connective tissue between each side of the abdominals is called the Linea Alba, which is where the stretching takes place. Sometimes, the body is able to tighten that connection naturally. In fact, many women experience some stretching of the Linea Alba in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy!
The majority of the time, the body tightens that connection once women give birth and their body restores it’s regular hormone levels. Sometimes though, the tissue doesn’t tighten immediately once the hormones shift, and in these cases it takes the help of a professional, along with a lot of focus and effort, to restore abdominal strength. In extreme cases, the split can only be fixed with surgery. Keep reading to learn how to determine if you have Diastasis Recti and how severe it may be.
How to Identify Diastasis Recti
If you have a “pooch” post-baby that just won’t seem to budge, even once you’ve returned to your pre-pregnancy weight, that’s an indicator that something may be going on. Also, if you now struggle with peeing every time you sneeze or cough, that’s a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction, which can result from Diastasis Recti. Lastly, the more pregnancies you go through, the greater your chances are of developing the condition. Most of those examples above sound familiar? Keep reading.
While it’s best to seek the guidance of a doctor or professional, like a Physical Therapist, you can do a “test” to identify Diastasis Recti on your own. Start by laying on your back with your knees bent so that the soles of your feet can rest flat on the floor. Take one hand and place it on the center of your belly, palm down, with your fingers pointing toward your pelvis. From there, lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor and press your fingers down into your belly. If there’s a gap there that allows your fingers to push down into your abdomen, then that’s Diastasis Recti.
Do this test both above and below your belly button because the split can be wider in different areas all along the Linea Alba. Diastasis Recti is officially diagnosable when the gap is at least 2.7 centimeters wide, which is about 2-3 fingers wide if you’re testing this yourself. Think you may have self-diagnosed the condition? Time to seek out a professional, both for confirmation and help fixing the problem.
How to Fix Diastasis Recti
If your case of Diastasis Recti isn’t too severe, [and hopefully it’s not!], or you plan to have more children in the future, then surgery won’t be necessary, no matter how long you’ve been living with the condition. Physical therapy and exercises to rebuild strength in your pelvic floor and core are going to help you close up the gap. Fair warning though! This isn’t an easy or quick fix – it requires consistency and commitment.
Since Diastasis Recti is in no way life threatening, some doctors will tell you that it’s not necessary to treat. However, if you’re living with a fear of sneezing, lower back pain, constipation or pain during sex, you may be able to rid yourself of these symptoms by fixing the condition. If you find that your doctor is brushing it off, but you want to fix it, you may have to seek out a knowledgable physical therapist on your own.
Any professional who is educated about Diastasis Recti is going to recommend learning how to properly engage your core to restore pelvic floor stability and core strength. If the professional you’re working with recommends planks and crunches straight off the bat, run the other way!! Strengthening your core when the connective tissue of your Linea Alba is stretched out requires a completely different approach than a standard core-strengthening program. Regular crunches, sit-ups, twisting movements to work the obliques and planks can actually stretch the connective tissue farther, making the condition worse. You don’t have to give up these movements forever, just ensure first that you’re engaging your core for proper alignment and beginning to see the gap shrink before you add them back into your regimen.
Does Pelvic Exercise Remedy Diastasis Recti?
Now that’s a lot of things to avoid, so let’s talk about options that are appropriate. First, you want to find a professional who will help you learn how to identify and engage your transverse abdominals. This is the deepest layer of your abdominal muscles that runs horizontally along your lower belly. Since this muscle is so deep, we often don’t realize we’re leaving it disengaged when we work our core. This issue with this is that engaging our transverse abdominals is crucial for pelvic floor stability and overall core strength, which is why learning how to engage our transverse abdominals pre-pregnancy is incredibly effective for preventing Diastasis Recti from happening in the first place.
Initially, your core exercises are going to be pretty simplistic, [i.e. laying on the floor, flexing and releasing your abdominals]. Remember though, learning to effectively engage your core to ensure proper alignment is the foundation of core strength and ridding yourself of Diastasis Recti. It’s not pointless, it’s essential! So have patience. From there, you’ll progress to trying more complex movements while continuing to focus on core engagement, like walking lunges, squats and kettlebell swings.
Seeing the gap shrink could take weeks, months or years, and there’s really no way to know how your body will respond – though working out regularly and having a strong core pre-pregnancy or injury is likely to speed up the process. Once you see results, you can experiment with adding more core-isolating movements into your program, like crunches and planks, in moderation. Your form while exercising is everything. Simply focusing on proper alignment – no matter what part of your body you’re working – is the most effective way to rid yourself of Diastasis Recti. Good Luck!