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What is Diastasis Recti? Myths, Tests & Self Help for Moms

Have you been pregnant or are you currently pregnant? The big buzz term around pregnancy is “diastasis recti.” This term describes the separation of your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis or “six-pack” muscle) during and following pregnancy. 

What’s important to note is that 100% of women will have diastasis recti. You read that correctly – 100%. The issue with diastasis recti is whether or not the separation corrects itself or returns to normal at 12 weeks postpartum. 

There are different variations of diastasis recti, as pictures below. It’s good to note that diastasis recti is unavoidable; your beautiful body has gone through so many changes and as your uterus expands during pregnancy, the pressure moves forward and is placed on your abdominal muscles. This pressure and stretching results in the separation.

How Do You Test for a Diastasis Recti?

A common misconception about diastasis recti is that the width and depth of the separation is what matters most. More recent research has actually debunked this theory. Instead, the importance lies in whether or not you have tensioning across the abdomen when you contract the muscles, or if the space remains open and protrusion of tissue (referred to as doming) is observed, or the space between the muscle bellies remains soft and open, allowing you to sink your hands in. 

You Can Test This on Yourself! 

Lie comfortably on your back with or without your knees bent. Find the centerline of your abdomen, starting just below your sternum – you should palpate all soft tissue and no bony structures. Your fingers can stay grouped together in a straight line as you vertically (not horizontally or perpendicular to the line, but with the line) put pressure on that centerline. 

Maintain this held pressure at the center line as you lift your head and shoulders off the surface you’re laying on. If you feel a “backdrop” or a muscle that comes to meet the pressure you’re providing, you have good tensioning! If, instead, you feel your fingers could keep moving downward, that demonstrates a lack of tensioning and more core weakness. 

Repeat the process of applying pressure at the centerline at the level of the belly button,  right above the belly button, and then again right below the belly button. This helps assess the whole muscle due to the variations of diastasis recti possible.

So – What Can You Do If You Don’t Have That Muscle Tensioning?

The good news is that you can re-learn how to provide proper tensioning to your abdominal muscles. The deepest core muscle is your transverse abdominis. This is the same muscle that can activate and provide the muscle tension when we lift our head and shoulders up off the surface.

Do You Have “Coning” or “Doming” of the Abdomen?

“Coning” or “doming” commonly occurs when we try to do abdominal exercises and instead of there being a flatter appearance of our abdomen, tissue protrudes outward. This presentation indicates there is unnecessary pressure at midline that increases our vulnerability of stretching connective tissue and weakening the muscle even more. When we can activate our transverse abdominis, we create that tensioning and provide appropriate and safe activation of our core. This activation will also prevent any coning and therefore vulnerability within that midline tissue.

Severe Separation

There are some indications where a surgical procedure may be warranted. In the case of a severe separation, deeper abdominal contents can make their way through the separation, causing a hernia. This is the result of a full thickness tear in the musculature that has allowed intestines to migrate through the space. The severity of the tear determines the necessity for a surgical procedure. There are some cases where it is purely cosmetic. The testing for the separation doesn’t change, nor does seeing if proper engagement in the transverse abdominis decreases the hernial presence. If the hernia is reduced with this engagement, it is still safe to continue with core exercises and the option of surgery is completely up to you – it would not be necessary, however the cosmetic look may be enough for you to move forward with surgery. 

The Good News!

Although no one wants to deal with DRA, the good news is that it’s not debilitating and it won’t hinder your ability to do core exercises or any other activity. The key to safely performing these exercises is to learn how to properly contract your transverse abdominis before stressing out the rest of your core, so as to avoid any increased pressure from deeper within. 

The other important factor is learning how to move through different positions and patterns while using your breath. We tend to hold our breath when we are moving through harder patterns or when we are carrying weight. This pressure is housed within our abdomen and can push into the vulnerable DRA tissue or our pelvic floor. 

The general rule of thumb: Inhale when moving toward gravity; Exhale when moving away from gravity. 

For example, when you’re squatting down to pick up groceries, a toy off the floor, or a little one, you would inhale as squat down and exhale as you move back to standing position. Coordinating a contraction of your transverse abdominis while you’re exhaling will also protect the DRA, low back, and pelvis, providing support and stability. 

Do you still have questions? Are you unsure if you have diastasis recti and how to properly engage in your transverse abdominis? We’re only a phone call away and can help you make sure you’re safely returning to activities without putting too much pressure and stress on your abdomen.

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