Diastasis Recti: What It Is and What You Can Do
by: Courtney Virden
Are you familiar with the term diastasis recti? Answering no means you are not alone. Many know the term and what it is, but many don't know. The term diastasis recti means an abdominal separation (complete or partial) of the rectus abdominis muscles, and the linea alba (midline fascia connective tissue) is overstretched. Numerous with this condition feel like they look pregnant, but they aren't. While it is more common in women, many people are surprised to discover that men can also have diastasis recti.
Causes of Diastasis Recti
Pregnant women have a high risk for diastasis because of maternal weight gain, the growing fetus, and pregnancy hormones. Due to the growing baby, pressure increases on the pelvic floor and stretches the abdominal wall. Frequently women postpartum experience diastasis recti for those reasons. For some, the gap closes naturally, but for others, it requires therapy. Heavy lifting, incorrect breathing patterns, obesity, and even excessive straining of the abdominal muscles from overdoing exercises can cause this condition too. This is why diastasis recti not only affects women but is quite common in men as well.
Separation of the abs is at, above, or below the belly button. Due to excessive pressure within the abdominal cavity, this separation occurs over time as more pressure is put on the abdominals than they can tolerate. Having diastasis recti (see diastasis recti check video below) impacts your pelvic floor (urinary incontinence is quite common), hips, and even your sex life!
Diastasis Recti Symptoms
People might be unaware that they have separated abdominal muscles. Plenty notice a pooch belly or abdominal wall pressure is a common complaint. Other women and men notice a gap or separation in their ab muscles. While some experience a distended belly that won't go away with abdominal exercises or even losing weight and believe it is just excessive body fat. Common other symptoms people experience include bladder leakage, lower back pain, and even constipation.
How to Check
It is possible to check yourself at home without a physical therapist. Below is a self-check video that walks you through the process. Watch the video (how to check diastasis recti) to learn how to do this while laying on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. For those who recently had a baby, I recommend waiting at least 6 weeks postpartum to check. Measuring the size of the gap is done in finger widths. Since that is how you measure, that is also how to monitor improvement fixing it. Not comfortable checking on your own? See a physical therapist for an evaluation. To find out if you are able to check yourself, try a self-check first.
Both of my pregnancies left me with a 3 finger gap. I closed it on my own using my pelvic floor programs without resorting to physical therapy. In total, I gained over 70 pounds during my first pregnancy and over 60 during my second. My babies were not small, weighing over 8 and 9 pounds each, so my belly really stretched during pregnancy. For me, diastasis recti was above, at and below my belly button. Also, I experienced symptoms of diastasis recti so I was certain I had it. Working on resolving the gap on your own first (if you are comfortable) is what I recommend for both men and women. If you cannot heal it, consult your doctor or physical therapist to determine whether or not you need surgery to fix it.
Keep in mind that some traditional exercises can actually make the issue more severe, so be careful. Exercises such as crunches, front planks, sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lifts will not help and usually cause more of a problem. All of those place a significant amount of pressure on your abdominals, often widening the separation. Abdominal separation is from a pressure problem, making those exercises more problematic. Countless women and men do these exercises hoping it will create a flat belly, and for someone with diastasis recti, it can do the opposite.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Matters
Another factor to note is that our breathing impacts diastasis recti as our diaphragm makes up the top of our core. Notice if your rib cage is not expanding (diaphragmatic breathing) when you breathe, it is an issue. Observing this likely means your pelvic floor is not ascending and descending as it should be when you breathe means you are creating extra pressure in your abdomen. This way of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing.
Our bodies are interconnected and work as a unit, so having diastasis recti will affect the rest of the core and body, leaving it compromised. Using diaphragmatic breathing exercises or exercises that encourage it is important. Addressing breathing without moving the diaphragm and rib cage is important. Remembering to breathe deeply as you move throughout the day is important. See the self-check video below, and if your hand on your chest when you breathe doesn't move, you are not breathing deeply.
Healing Your Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor
Once you determine you have diastasis recti, it's something you will want to address. Because your core is weak with diastasis, you are more susceptible to injuries. Planks and crunches will not fix diastasis recti. Healing abdominal separation with a program specifically designed for it may be required. When we have excessive pressure in our abdomen, our pelvic floor also experiences excessive pressure. So it often leads to pelvic floor issues and imbalances in both men and women. Many shallow breathers have a tight pelvic floor, which is not desirable and creates many other problems.
Starting my Go-To Program, designed to help you heal the gap, is what I recommend for those that have diastasis recti. This also strengthens your pelvic floor and stabilizes your core at the same time. As I mentioned, I had a three-finger gap after both of my pregnancies, and I used the program to heal my diastasis and my body. Strengthening your core and working to resolve it on your own will help you be stronger if you do end up needing surgery. But for so many, they fix this issue without surgery or costly physical therapy. Whether your diastasis is new or has been there for years, it is never too late to start healing it. Healing from the comfort of your home is possible with these programs. So what are you waiting for? Fix your diastasis recti once and for all.