- What is Diastasis Recti?
- How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti?
- Exercises to Avoid
- Exercises for Diastasis Recti
- How to prevent Diastasis Recti
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominis rectus (a.k.a. your “six pack”) due to the weakening of the central abdominal wall (Linea Alba). Minor diastasis recti is completely normal during pregnancy and is a part of your body’s natural adaptation as baby grows and develops. Pregnancy hormones weaken the central abdominal wall to allow room for baby’s growth. As baby grows, the muscles separate. In cases of minor diastasis recti, the abdominal wall should naturally regain its original strength between 4-6 weeks after delivery, pulling the two halves of the abdominis rectus back together. However, mild to severe cases of diastasis recti over-stretch or damage the abdominal wall. In these cases, the abdominal wall is unable to regain its original strength, and the abdominis rectus remains separated.
How to tell if you have Diastasis Recti?
Mild to severe cases of diastasis recti are not normal during pregnancy, but they are also not uncommon. 30% of women will suffer from a mild form of diastasis following their first pregnancy, and the likelihood of developing diastasis recti increases during subsequent pregnancies.
One easy way to tell if you have a mild to severe case of diastasis recti is if a sizable “pooch” starts to form on your stomach. This pooch is known as “coning” (also called “doming”). Coning/doming occurs when the increased intra-abdominal pressure from baby’s growth pushes the internal organs against the weakened abdominal wall. In the case of mild to severe diastasis recti, the increased pressure will cause a “pooch” to form on top of the abdominal wall. This “coning” or “doming” is almost always a sure sign that you have mild to severe diastasis recti.
If you suspect that you have a mild to severe case of diastasis recti, we have outlined an easy method to self-diagnose if you have diastasis recti that you can perform within the comfort of your own home. However, we always recommend that you consult your doctor prior to doing anything. Follow these easy steps below to diagnose if you have diastasis recti:
1: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent your feet flat on the floor.
2: Gently press your fingers in your naval area against your abdominal wall. Your abdominal wall runs vertical above and below your navel.
3: Slowly lift your head, bringing your chin to your chest. Engage your core and lift up on your pelvic floor. This causes your abdominis rectus to contract. Once you find the separated area along your abdominal wall, count how many fingers you can fit into the separated area. This will be used to diagnose the severity of your diastasis recti.
4: Repeat multiple times, moving your fingers above and below your naval area, as diastasis recti can occur in multiple places along your abdominal wall.
Diastasis Recti Test Results
Once you have performed the diastasis recti self-test, see the results below:
Minor diastasis recti: If you can fit up to 1 1/2 fingers into the width of your separated area, you have minor diastasis recti. Your separated abdominal wall will naturally correct itself after you begin to engage your abdominal muscles during the appropriate time of postpartum recovery. See the section for safe exercises below.
Mild diastasis recti: If you can fit up to 2-2 1/2 fingers into the width of your separated area, you have a mild case. In the case of mild diastasis recti, your body will not be able to fully correct your abdominal wall naturally. However, this is no cause for alarm. With the proper abdominal exercises, you may be able to greatly heal your separated abdominis rectus and prevent health issues from arising in the future. See the section for safe exercises below.
Severe diastasis recti: If you can fit up to 3-5 fingers fingers into the width of your separated area, you have severe diastasis recti. Severe diastasis recti will not redress naturally and requires surgical correction. It’s comparable to an umbilical hernia. Your abdominal muscles can no longer absorb elevated pressure in the abdomen. Make an appointment with your doctor, and refrain from core exercises until further consultation from your doctor.
Exercising and Diastasis Recti: The Do’s and Don’ts
Minor to mild cases of ab separation greatly benefit from light exercise and strength training. Exercise helps strengthen the core, abdominal wall, and pelvic floor, helping to heal and pull the separated abdominis rectus back together. Though exercise may not completely cure certain cases of ab separation, it greatly reduces its effects and helps prevent health problems arising in the future. However, there are certain core exercises that can actually worsen the gap. We have made a list of the do’s and don’ts of core exercise so that you can have the best and safest recovery possible. Note that this does not apply with severe cases. In these cases, refrain from exercise, and make an appointment with your OBGYN. Even of you have minor to mild cases of diastasis recti, it is always recommended that you consult your doctor before starting these exercises.
Pregnant women should not do core exercises that exert extra intra-abdominal pressure on your abdominis rectus, such as crunches, abdominal stretching, and twists, tear your abdominis rectus further apart. These exercises must be absolutely avoided as they will further damage your abdominal wall and abdominis rectus and worsen your separation. We have made a list below of some of the most common exercises to avoid during your healing process:
Twisting your torso, such as oblique twists
Exercises that require stretching on a yoga ball
Yoga exercises that stretch the abdominis rectus, such as “upward dog” and “snake pose”
Leg extensions that engage the abdominis rectus
In summary, avoid any exercise that engages or stretches your “six pack.” These will further damage your linea alba. Consult your doctor before you begin any exercise.
Core exercises that engage your obliques, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor build strength to support your healing abdominis rectus. Light forms of exercise that engage these muscles are encouraged to help aid in your healing process. Here is a list of exercises that you can perform during your recovery.
Consult your doctor before beginning any of these exercises. Remember that certain exercises are unsafe during the beginning of the postpartum period. Check out our complete guide to pregnancy exercise to get some more info on safe pregnancy workouts.
Diastasis Recti Exercises that target your pelvic floor:
Here are 3 exercises that you can put together to make a diastasis recti workout. You can also see more diastasis recti exercises in this article. You can also download the Juna app, where there is a 6 week Core Restore Program created by a Pelvic Floor PT that can heal your diastasis recti.
Pelvic Floor Exercises: recommended during week 2-week 6 of postpartum.
1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Rest your arms on your stomach.
2: Pull your belly button inwards, and push your back into the ground.
3: Hold this position for 10 seconds, and then relax.
1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lie your arms flat on the ground palms down towards your feet.
2: Slowly lift your pelvis through your buttocks. Hold for 5 seconds.
3: As you hold, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, as if you are trying not to urinate.
4: Slowly lower your pelvis to the ground.
Isolated oblique exercises: recommended during week 6-month 3 of postpartum.
1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
2: Raise your head slightly, and with your palms down and arms extended.
3: Slowly reach your right hand to your right ankle, and return to central position. Then reach your left hand to your left ankle, and return to central position.
Isolated Oblique Lifts:
1: Lie on your side leaning on your forearm for support with your legs bent at a 90 degree angle. Your should be in straight alignment from your head to where your legs are bent at the knees.
2: Lift your hips as high as possible, hold for five seconds, and lower.
3: Repeat on both sides.
Transverse Abdominis exercises: recommended during week 6-month 3 of postpartum.
1: Get down on your hands and knees, supporting yourself with your hands or forearms.
2: Make sure your head and buttocks are in alignment with the rest of your body, creating one straight line.
3: Contract core and engage your pelvic floor, and hold for 5 seconds.
How to prevent Diastasis Recti
If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, you can begin specific exercises to help prevent this condition through strengthening your transverse abdominis. Your transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, and it acts as the girth that holds the rest of the muscles together.
Through strengthening the transverse abdominis, you are building a strong abdominal foundation to protect your abdominis rectus as they begin to separate during pregnancy. Try this easy exercise to help build transverse abdominis strength:
Transverse Abdominis Wall Presses:
1: Standing against a wall, slide your back down walking your feet out until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your body should be in neutral position, creating a straight line with your head, spine, ribs, and pelvis against the wall.
2: Inhale deeply, and exhale forcefully through your teeth, creating a loud hissing noise. As you exhale, compress your abdominal wall as much as you can.
3: After exhaling, hold your abdominal contraction for 10 seconds as you breathe normally. After 10 seconds, release the contraction.
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We hope this article has been helpful and informative. If you believe you have diastasis recti or want to attempt any of these exercises, we recommend you be evaluated by a Pelvic Floor PT. We also have a 6 week Core Restore program that was created with Pelvic Floor PT Katie Hunter. This program focuses on rebuilding your core and pelvic floor after pregnancy so that you can have a safe and easy return to fitness.