This blog post is NOT a “you can do it!” rah-rah suggestion to “get your body back” and/or “drop that baby weight” for a flatter tummy, a bathing suit body, or any other ridiculous-ness. You just grew and birthed a human being. Nice work. I think you have the right to focus on your new life, your own well being, and the health of your child rather than the visual appearance of your stomach.
What this blog post is is an explanation of how abdominal injury can occur during pregnancy, how it can be identified, why it can pose a risk to your long term health, and what you can do to prevent that.
Phew. Now that we have that clarified, let’s move on.
Pregnancy and childbearing is an extreme sport. I am still filled with wonder as to how my mother underwent an incredibly difficult 18hr labor with my older brother, and then was mentally and physically able to turn around and do it again with me. Shaun White’s got nothing on you, mom.
1. What is a diastasis recti?
During this 9 month extreme sporting process, the abdominal muscles undergo an immense amount of strain as a woman’s belly grows. The connective tissue (or linea alba) of our most superficial abdominal muscle (the rectus abdominis) can separate under this strain. When the linea alba separates to an appreciable extent this is called diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti occurs to some extent in approximately ⅔rds of all pregnant women, which is why this blog post is focused on that population. However, diastasis recti can also occur in men and newborn babies. Should this guy be concerned about his abdominal separation? Yeah, yeah he should. So all you Y chromosomes, read on…
2. When does diastasis recti occur?
Diastasis recti can occur anytime the linea alba is stressed abnormally and repetitively, such as during pregnancy. It can also occur over time with heavy weightlifting, yo-yo dieting, or after doing certain exercises with poor form (cough cough, crunches, I’m looking at you).
3. How can I tell if I have diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is relatively simple to test for. Start by lying on your back with your knees bend and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your head and stomach muscles relaxed as you palpate your abdominal muscles along your midline. Start at your chest and work down toward your belly button, scanning for gaps or changes in the muscle.
Next, place two fingers just above your belly button with your fingers pointing straight to the floor. Lift your head off of the ground a small amount, which will naturally and gently engage your core. If your fingers sink into a hole, repeat the movement. Count how many fingers fit lengthwise into the hole.
1-2 fingers is considered normal, 2-3 fingers is considered a mild diastasis recti, and 4-5 fingers is considered severe.
Confused? Check out these short videos to self test. The first video shows how to test, but does not show a diastasis recti. The second shows a patient who does have one.
4. Why should I be concerned if I have diastasis recti?
The symptoms of diastasis recti extend far beyond the visual change in your stomach’s appearance. Diastasis recti can compromise the integrity of your core musculature leading to consequences such as incontinence, difficulty lifting, low back pain, and increased likelihood of developing a hernia.
If you have a diastasis recti, you can make your symptoms worse by performing certain movements or core exercises. It is therefore is essential to identify whether you have an abdominal separation, and take steps to reduce it.
5. Who can help with my diastasis recti, and how can I fix it?
In most cases, diastasis recti can be corrected with a very specific core and exercise routine. The details of one’s routine will depend on the depth, location, and severity of their abdominal separation. A non-specific, generic core routine may actually exacerbate your symptoms and level of separation. It is essential that physical therapist, athletic trainer, or knowledgeable personal trainer guide your progress.
The good news? A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. Contact your trusted physical therapist and begin your recovery process today.
Heal Your Body, Strengthen Your Life
Your friends at Jackson County Physical Therapy