WHAT IS DIASTASIS RECTI?
Diastasis Recti, also referred to as ‘Divarication of the Recti’ or ‘Rectus Divarification’, is the widening of the gap between the 2 sections of the Rectus Abdominis (or 6 pack) abdominal muscle at the Linea Alba (mid-line connective tissue) at the front of the abdomen. The collagen of the Linea Alba (the tissue structure that joins the two sides of the rectus muscle) no longer provides tension and stability.
It doesn’t always return to its natural position after childbirth and, especially if a mother performs the ‘wrong’ type of abdominal exercises (read on for more information) the diastasis remains. This can cause a pooching or doming of your stomach, sometimes making you appear still a few months pregnant. As well as the aesthetic concerns, diastasis recti is associated with a weak core (and pelvic floor), leading to a lack of strength and stability in the entire pelvic region and midsection. You can see an illustration of the muscles involved here.
WHAT CAUSES DIASTASIS RECTI?
Diastasis Recti is the result of excessive intra-abdominal pressure or loading caused by non-optimal alignment of your entire body… and is common in the later stages of pregnancy, particularly second or subsequent pregnancies. The diastasis (the gap) narrows naturally in the days and weeks following childbirth, but often doesn’t come back together completely on its own, resulting in instability and weakness of the core and a ‘pooch’ stomach or ‘mummy tummy’.
But the Rectus Abdominis is only 1 of 4 layers of abdominal muscles: the Transverse Abdominis (deepest muscle layer) the Interior and Exterior Obliques (next 2 layers) that form your waist, and then the Rectus Abdominis is on the outside.
Unfortunately when the 2 parts of the muscle separate as a result of this increased pressure, the connective mid-line is stretched and weakened as it takes all other muscular and fascial support structures along with it. This leaves the front of the abdomen unsupported and unstable.
Important: Diastasis Recti is a symptom of excessive and unsupported intra abdominal pressure, the same state that creates other pelvic and abdominal problems including hernia and prolapse. DR should therefore be treated as part of an integrated program designed to restore, re-connect and then strengthen the entire core musculature, rather than be addressed in isolation (and rather than focussing only on ‘closing the gap’).
HOW TO TEST FOR DIASTASIS RECTI
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Relax your head and shoulders and place your fingers (palm facing you) just above your belly button.
Lift your head and neck very slightly off the floor and press down with your fingertips. If you feel a gap, that’s the diastasis. You will feel the muscles close in around your fingers as you lift your head and neck. Don’t lift your shoulders. Repeat the test in two other place: directly over the belly button, and a couple of inches below.
A diastasis recti gap is measured in finger width’s. You are aiming for a 1-2 finger gap or less, but don’t panic if it’s much bigger at first.
Even more important than the width of the gap though, is the tension (or lack of tension) in the midline – the linea alba. Contracting the muscles should create tension and resistance to your application of gentle pressure with your fingers to the midline. If it doesn’t – you have some re-connecting to do…
For more information on the MuTu System exercise programs to restore your core and repair your diastasis CLICK HERE
SHOULD YOU USE A SPLINT, BELLY BINDER OR ABDOMINAL WRAP TO BRING A DIASTASIS TOGETHER?
Some advocate wrapping or binding the mid-section to draw the split recti muscles back together. Postpartum abdominal binding has also been traditional practice in many parts of the world for generations.
In my experience, supporting the abdomen during and immediately after pregnancy may be helpful when the gap is wide (4 fingers or more), and, used correctly, can help with awareness of the abs and for lower back support.
However, wrapping it up tight, pulling the two sides together… won’t make them heal or stay there. Don’t use a wrap or splint as a substitute for actually engaging the right muscles… otherwise you’re going to wearing that splint for a very long time.
Remember the diastasis is caused by inappropriate loading and pressure within the abdominal and pelvic ‘canister’. Loading that your body can’t withstand as it should. Wrapping it up in itself won’t fix it, it will just squidge your abdominal mass in a different direction (think of a tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle…) You need to correct alignment and re-engage an entire SYSTEM of muscles and fasica to put your tummy back where you want it for the long term.
HOW COMMON IS DIASTASIS RECTI?
Over a third of women will have a gap of two fingers or more after their first baby. After second or subsequent pregnancies, this figure is more like two thirds, especially if the gap wasn’t closed effectively after the first.
WHAT EXERCISES WILL HELP CLOSE A DIASTASIS?
First, you need to FIND your transverse abdominis muscle. Here’s how: Without raising or tensing your chest or shoulders, GENTLY draw your belly button back towards your spine as you slowly exhale. That’s the right muscle!You’re not ‘sucking in’ or making any forceful or exaggerated movement. Your pelvis shouldn’t tuck under as you do this – in fact nothing should be happening in your shoulders, chest or pelvis! – it is just a subtle drawing in at the lower abs.
You are not… sucking in your stomach, holding your breath, moving your ribs or your shoulders. You’re not tucking your butt / tailbone under you or thrusting your hips – all these pelvic tilts indicate the Transverse is not working – you have to isolate this muscle first and re-connect with it, if it is going to play its vital role in your core and pelvic floor system again..
You need to correct your ALIGNMENT – the cause of that excessive pressure and loading More on alignment and diastasis recti here
Then you have to learn to ENGAGE your transverse abdomens and pelvic floor muscles effectively and correctly, not only when you exercise, but also during every-day movements like lifting, sneezing or twisting.
Then you need to STRENGTHEN your transverse abdominis muscle in a way that will draw your rectus abdominis muscle (the six pack, outermost one, the one that has separated) back in together, pulling your belly back in… flatter and stronger.
Note: Crunches, sit ups and some Pilates or yoga moves will make a diastasis worse
MY YOUNGEST IS AT SCHOOL…! CAN I REDUCE MY DIASTASIS OR AM I TOO LATE?
Activating and engaging your core transverse abdominis muscle and learning to re-align and and strengthen your core and pelvis can be done at any stage postpartum and will improve the gap. If you did a lot of crunches and/or oblique crunches post baby, then you may have developed a ‘cone’ shape on your abdomen where you have worked the muscles hard, but in the wrong direction. You may not bring the muscles right back together, but you can definitely make improvements to strength, stability AND the way your tummy looks!
WHICH MOVEMENTS OR EXERCISES SHOULD I AVOID?
Crunches, sit-ups, oblique (twists) combined with crunches; anything that ‘jack-knifes’ the body, by pivoting at the hip and placing strain on the abdominals - such as straight leg lifts or holds from lying on your back and similar Pilates moves
CAN IT ALWAYS BE FIXED WITH EXERCISE?
Sometimes the linea alba is just too stretched, sometimes the midline tension cannot be restored. But the stability of your core can ALWAYS be improved with the right restorative exercise. So even in cases where a specialist program such as MuTu System has been undertaken consistently, but surgery (that’s Rectus Plication – not just a ‘tummy tuck’) is later deemed to be the only way to actually bring the two parts of muscle closer together and restore tension in the linea alba … then still the process of re-connection, restoration and healing is hugely beneficial and gives the lasting effects of surgery greater chances of success. See comments from Pelvic Health medical specialists here.