Diastasis Recti (also known as Diastasis Rectus Abdominis or DRA) is something all pregnant women should be aware of, but unfortunately not many are.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is the separation of the Rectus Abdominis (RA, the front abdominal wall muscles or 6-pack muscle) muscles down the Linea Alba (the tissue connecting the two sides of the RA muscles).
Why Does Diastasis Recti Happen?
Internal abdominal pressure causes Diastasis Recti . The pressure is generally increased during pregnancy, as the baby grows and belly expands. The pressure causes the stretching of the Linea Alba.
Why is Diastasis Recti a Problem?
- It can lead to hernia(s) – the internal abdominal organs can be pushed through the weakened linea alba between the RA.
- Unhealed Diastasis Recti can create a weakened and dysfunctional core, which can cause lower back pain.
- The gap in the muscles can lead to the look of a pregnant belly long after birth.
- If left unchecked, it can be exacerbated through general daily activities like lifting kids, contraindicated exercises and insufficient time to heal. It can also get worse with subsequent pregnancies.
Is it Common?
Some experts say ALL women experience degrees of Diastasis Recti during pregnancy. This makes sense when you think about how much a pregnant woman’s abdomen expands by the end of the pregnancy. Some studies report that 30% of women who have Diastasis Recti after the birth, still have it 1 year later. Some women’s Diastasis Recti heals quicker than others naturally and so in some cases it may not be detected post-natal in some women.
How is Diastasis Recti Healed?
As I have said before, for some women it can heal quickly without intervention. For others they will need more time. They will need to be mindful of the how they exercise and what exercises they do. Some others may need medical intervention to fix it. The general rules for exercise are:
- Give your body time to heal following the pregnancy and delivery (natural OR c-section)
- Lifting weights, using incorrect technique and poor breathing co-ordination while having weaker or dysfunctional core, can mean the abdominal pressure can be forced out the weakest point in the abdomen – in this case the Diastasis Recti. So hold off any exercises that create increased pressure until you have sought advice from a women’s health physio or a Personal Trainer that specialises in core restoration. You want to be sure you don’t have Diastasis Recti and you have healed before stressing your body and core through exercises.
- Make sure your are breathing correctly throughout the movement
- Exhale on exertion, DO NOT hold your breath. Ideally you would not be doing strenuous load bearing exercises until you have your Diastasis Recti sorted and are certain you have your breathing and core function mastered. But as Mums you generally can’t NOT pick up your kids, pick up the washing basket, carry shopping or carry the pram into the car. Seeing a women’s health physio and/or Personal Trainer specialising in core restoration will help you learn the right techniques while still allowing you to get on with life in a controlled manner while you heal.
- Choose exercises that DO NOT increase internal abdominal pressure
- Avoid crunches (or variations such as bicycle crunches) and the like. If you have Diastasis Recti you want to ensure you are not creating pressure working against your RA.
- See a women’s health physio or work with a Personal Trainer who specialises in core restoration if you suspect DRA
How do I know if I Have Diastasis Recti?
There is a simple test you can do yourself (watch for my next blog post describing how to do this) or you can get your local women’s health physio to check it for you. If you have any concerns with your pelvic floor function or have had a baby and not seen a women’s health physio, I would encourage you to get them to check you and your core/pelvic floor function. In an ideal world, having a post-natal check-up with a women’s health physio would just be a routine part of your post-natal care. This would help identify and rehabilitate any core and pelvic floor issues before they have an impact on your life in a negative way.