What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti or rectus diastasis, tummy gap, mummy tummy or abdominal separation is a stretching of the connective tissue (called the linea alba) that binds the abdominal muscles (6 pack) together leaving what feels like a gap in the abdomen.
What causes Diastasis Recti?
During pregnancy the linea alba stretches due to the release of a hormone called relaxin, which allows the ligaments and connective tissues to relax and stretch more to accommodate the growing baby in the uterus and to prepare for labour.
Diastasis recti is more commonly found in pregnant and postnatal women or women who have had a c-section. However, this condition is also seen in both men and women and it can be due to excessive heavy lifting or incorrect execution of abdominal exercises that leads to abdominal separation or “split abs”. It is also seen in hypermobile people, overweight people and premature babies.
How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti?
If you can visibly see a widening or a gap between the two muscle bellies of your rectus abdominis muscle you may have diastasis recti. This may be accompanied by a bulging sensation, with the bulge may get worse after a meal.
An easy test to perform at home to assess for diastasis recti, is:-
- to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor
- put one hand on your belly, with your fingers on your midline
- press your fingertips down gently, and bring your head up into a mini crunch-like position
- feel for the sides of your rectus abdominis muscles, and see if and how far they are separated.
Separation is commonly measured in terms of finger widths, i.e. one, two, three etc fingers of separation.
If the gap is under 2 fingers width apart it is normal, over that it is considered to be diastasis recti.
Does Diastasis Recti heal on its own?
Diastasis recti is considered normal postpartum, while the uterus shrinks. Over a period of 6 weeks postpartum this abdominal gap generally reduces naturally back to normal size and width.
However, if the gap is over 2 fingers wide 6 weeks postpartum it is considered abnormal and we recommend that you seek the advice of an Osteopath or Physiotherapist to assess your abdominal separation and your pelvic floor muscles.
If you have abdominal separation without pregnancy, whether you are male or female, we recommend you consult an Osteopath or Physiotherapist to devise a treatment plan with you that can help to minimise the gap.
There are a number of popular abdominal exercises that are not recommended such as sit ups, crunches and the plank because they tend to increase intra-abdominal pressure, as well as other activities such as running or weight lifting.
Your therapist will be able to advise the best exercises for your specific condition and body type.
How do you fix Diastasis Recti?
It is best to consult an Osteopath or Physiotherapist to devise a treatment plan to help minimise the gap between your rectus abdominis muscle. This will help prevent associated conditions like lower back or hip pain which can result from having a weakened core.
Carrying or feeding your baby can put pressure on the joints and muscles of the back and shoulders, which can also be managed or prevented with therapy.
In cases of severe diastasis recti where manual therapy and exercises have not restored normal functionality, surgery may be needed. If you think that you may have a diastasis recti, please contact us to speak to one of our Osteopaths or Physiotherapists.