What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti Abdominis (aka “diastasis”) is a separation of the abdominal muscles called the rectus abdominis, also known as your “six pack muscles”. Diastasis is very common and a normal occurrence during pregnancy as your belly expands and stretches to allow space for a growing baby. However, diastasis can also occur in people who are not pregnant, often due to factors like excessive abdominal strain, obesity, improper exercise techniques, or repeated heavy lifting.
Common symptoms of diastasis recti include a visible bulge or “doming” along the midline of the abdomen, especially when engaging the abdominal muscles or sitting up, and can also result in or contribute to lower back pain.
How do I know if I have diastasis recti?
Here is a simple self-check you can do at home to get an idea of whether you might have diastasis recti:
- Find a Comfortable Spot: Lie on your back on a flat surface, such as a yoga mat or a bed. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the surface.
- Locate Your Belly Button: Place your fingers just above your belly button horizontally and feel for any tension.
- Engage Your Abdominal Muscles: Gently lift your head off the ground, as if you were doing a mini crunch. You don’t need to lift very high—just enough to engage your abdominal muscles while holding your fingers in the above position.
- Feel for a Gap and for Tension: As you lift your head, pay attention to the area above your belly button where your fingers are placed. Use your fingers to feel for a gap or separation between the muscles. The separation might feel like a soft, squishy area or a gap where your fingers sink in. Pay attention not only to the width of the separation but also how squishy the tissue feels. Do your fingers sink in very deep, or not at all?
- Check Different Points: Repeat this process by moving your fingers a few inches above and below your belly button, as well as at your belly button level. This can help you determine the extent of any separation.
Keep in mind that it’s normal for there to be some gap between the abdominal muscles, especially in the immediate postpartum period. Also know that this is only one of many ways to check for separation and does not take into account different movements or positions. You can see a pelvic physiotherapist for a more in depth assessment of this. If you notice a lack of tension (fingers sinking in very deep), a significant gap or if you’re experiencing discomfort, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare professional, such as a pelvic floor physical therapist, for a proper evaluation and guidance.
How do I fix my diastasis recti?
While we tend to be very fixated on how to “close the gap” to fix diastasis recti, the width of your diastasis gap (“ab separation”) is actually not important for daily function. What matters most is how our core is functioning and the core strength we have. When healing diastasis, we want to shift our focus on proper core strengthening to improving how our core functions and how it can support us in our daily activities.
What if I still want to close my gap?
If trying to close your diastasis gap is important to you, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you’re newly postpartum, time may help to close the width of your gap, and it’s possible that core strengthening may contribute to this as well.
- Surgery is an option that some individuals may consider for closing their gap, and you should speak with your primary care provider and/or a pelvic physiotherapist about this if you want to learn more.
- Try to remind yourself that the width of your gap is not important for your general health and function. Instead, try to shift your focus and energy towards improving your core function.
How do I improve my core function?
To improve your core function, it is first important to understand the core and how these muscles work.
The inner core consists of 4 parts:
- The diaphragm (used for breathing)
- The pelvic floor
- Multifidus (small, deep muscle of the low back)
- Transversus abdominis (deepest layer of abdominal muscle)
These four structures manage pressure inside your abdomen, support your pelvis and spine, and provide a foundation on which to build core strength and optimize function. These structures work together inside your abdomen via the core breath. When working in a coordinated and efficient way, you can build upon this foundation by building strength. Using a guided approach, such as a gradual, step-wise postpartum workout program, you can improve your core strength and function while ensuring an optimal postpartum recovery.
Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your health care provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.