Diastasis recti is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominus or ‘six-pack’ muscles. This muscle is connected down the midline of the stomach by the linea alba (connective tissue). Diastasis is common during and following pregnancy - a gap in the rectus abdominus muscle occurs to make room for the growing baby. In most cases the gap naturally closes within about 6-8 weeks after pregnancy, but for some women the gap fails to close spontaneously. Abdominal separation affects your core muscles, and therefore often occurs alongside other core issues such as pelvic floor weakness, incontinence, back pain, constipation and prolapse.
Image 1: Demonstrating diastasis recti
The most common symptom is the classic "mummy pooch" or feeling like you continue to look pregnant, months or years after birth. You may also notice a doming or bulging down the midline of your belly when doing activities that engage the abdominals.
Here's how to self-check yourself for diastasis recti:
Lie on your back, legs bent, feet flat on the floor
Assess at rest first by walking your fingers down your midline getting a sense of what the linea alba feels like
After you have checked at rest, take a big inhale and on the exhale lift your head about 1 inch above the ground
Move your hand above and below your belly button and all along your midline like you did at rest. See if you can fit any fingers in the gaps between your muscles.
If you feel a gap of one or more finger widths, you likely have a diastasis recti
Diastasis doesn't just occur in women and pregnancy. It can also affect men and newborn babies. In some cases, it is a result from lifting heavy weights incorrectly or performing excessive or unsafe abdominal exercises.
Healing a diastasis requires a holistic approach looking at nutrition, posture, soft tissue release and core exercises. The core should always be rehabilitated as a whole and so effective diastasis treatment will involve exercises that engage the pelvic floor and the deep abdominals simultaneously. To start reconnecting to your core you first need to find your pelvic floor. To do this you need to:
Lie on your back with your knees bent
Inhale, breathing from the base of your ribs. As you exhale, close and lift your pelvic floor (imagine you are trying to hold in wee and wind at the same time). Try and start the contraction at your back passage first.
At the end of the exhale, let go of the contraction.
Image 2: From Rehab My Patient - Demonstrating how to do a core/pelvic floor exercise
Once you can achieve a pelvic floor contraction you need to add load to strengthen your core, which will rebuild tension across the midline of your abdominals. Your physiotherapist can help with this and make sure that you are loading correctly.
If you think you have a diastasis or are concerned about any symptoms following childbirth get in contact with our physios or book in for a Mummy MOT By Kelly Rotheram