Diastasis recti is a condition that many women experience from pregnancy. The growth of the uterus causes the muscles of the abdomen, in particular the rectus abdominis, to stretch. When these muscles stretch, it causes the two large parallel bands to separate which severely weakens the abdomen and can present a lot of discomfort. It is very important after the first trimester of pregnancy that women keep aggressive abdominal exercises to a minimum! With a cautious approach to exercise, diastasis recti can be prevented or reduced. There are some other factors that may contribute to increased risk of developing diastasis rectus:
- Twin pregnancy
- Over the age of 35
- High weight baby
- Repeated pregnancies
So you may ask do I have it? The surest way to determine if this is something you may have is to see a doctor for a physical examination. If you would like to self-test, there are tests you can try out on your own. Here is a very common separation test that can help you determine if this is something you may have!
- Lay back on the floor, feet flat and knees bent.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other behind your head.
- With your fingertips at belly-button level and abdomen relaxed, press down on your abdomen.
- Crunch your upper back off the floor, moving your ribs towards the pelvis.
- Travel your fingers across the midline of your abdomen, feeling both sides of your rectus abdominis muscle.
- Look for separation above, at, and below your belly button.
If you find that you may have diastasis, don’t be alarmed as 35% of women experience this post-pregnancy (Candido 2005) and 66% of women experience this after pregnancy (Boissonnault 1987). There is no “cure” for diastasis but there are exercises that can help strengthen and close the separation. The goal is to engage the transverse abdominis and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This is something that needs to be practiced not only while exercising but also during normal daily activities. This will train you to keep engaged majority of the time, making it an automatic movement/reaction!
There are exercises that can do more harm than good. Exercises or movements to avoid include:
- Twisting (i.e. Russian twists)
- Straight-leg lifts or holds while on back
Diastasis recti is a condition which surprisingly there isn’t a lot of awareness for. Some women may not even know they have and attribute any pain or weakness in their core to lack of strength and conditioning of the core. Ladies, if you have gone through pregnancy be sure to self-test. If you are still not sure be sure to ask your physician! It is extremely important that we take care of our core as it is the foundation for EVERYTHING!
Boissonnault J, Blaschak M. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing years. Phys Ther 1988; 68:1082Candido G , Lo T , Janssen PA . Risk factors for diastasis of the recti abdominis.. J Assoc Chartered Physiother Women’s Health. 2005 ; 97 : 49 – 54 .