Diastasis Recti: What It Is and What You Can Do
by: Courtney Virden
Diastasis recti is a separation (partial or complete) of the rectus abdominis muscles (six-pack muscles), and the linea alba (midline fascia connective tissue) is overstretched. It is a common problem among women postpartum and can also impact women and men who have never been pregnant.
This condition leaves many feeling like they look pregnant with a lower-belly pooch, but they aren’t. Many think weight loss and losing lower belly fat will solve the poochy belly or that it isn’t an issue in the long term. While it is more common in women, many are surprised that men can also have ab separation.
Causes and Risk Factors of Diastasis Recti
Pregnant women have a high risk for diastasis because of maternal weight gain, the growing fetus, and pregnancy hormones. Due to the growing baby, pressure increases on the pelvic floor and stretches the abdominal wall. Frequently women postpartum experience diastasis recti for those reasons. For some, the gap closes naturally, but for others, it requires therapy.
Heavy lifting, incorrect breathing patterns, obesity, and even excessive straining of the abdominal muscles from overdoing exercises can cause this condition too. This is why diastasis recti not only affects women but is quite common in men as well.
You can have separation of the abs at, above, or below the belly button. Due to excessive pressure within the abdominal cavity, this separation occurs over time as more pressure is put on the abdominals than they can tolerate. The deep core muscles are compromised and need to be addressed. Having diastasis recti (see diastasis recti self-check the video below) impacts your pelvic floor (urinary incontinence is quite common), hips, and even your sex life!
Diastasis Recti Symptoms
Common symptoms of diastasis recti are:
- bladder leakage
- lower back pain
- visible bulge, pooch, or coning of the abdomen
- painful intercourse
- poor posture
- hip or pelvic pain
- softness around the belly button
- weakness in the abdominals
- difficulty lifting heavy objects or performing daily tasks
What does diastasis recti feel like? People might be unaware that they have separated abdominal muscles. Plenty notice a pooch belly or abdominal wall pressure is a common complaint. Other women and men notice a gap or separation in their ab muscles.
While some experience a distended belly that won’t go away with abdominal exercises or even losing weight and believe it is just excessive body fat.
How to Self-Check for Diastasis Recti
Measuring the size of the gap is done in finger widths. Since that is how you measure, that is also how to monitor improvement fixing it. Not comfortable checking on your own? See a physical therapist for an evaluation. To find out if you can check yourself, try a self-check first. Keep in mind you can heal a diastasis recti years and even decades after it appeared.
Fix Yourself with Diastasis Recti Repair Exercises
Both of my pregnancies left me with a three-finger gap. I closed it on my own using our pelvic floor programs without resorting to physical therapy. I gained over 70 pounds during my first pregnancy and over 60 during my second. My babies were not small, weighing over 8 and 9 pounds each, so my belly really stretched during pregnancy. For me, diastasis recti was above, at, and below my belly button, and I was experiencing multiple symptoms.
Working on resolving the gap on your own first (if you are comfortable) is what I recommend for both men and women. If it has been 25 years after having a baby, many wonder how to fix diastasis recti years later and if is it possible and it is possible. If you cannot heal it after six months of consistency with a diastasis recti repair program, consult your doctor or physical therapist to determine whether or not you need surgery to fix it. Most women with mild to moderate diastasis recti can heal on their own, and even some with severe diastasis recti can.
Traditional Exercises Versus Diastasis Recti Exercises
Remember that some traditional exercises can make the issue more severe, so be careful. Exercises such as crunches, front planks, sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lifts will not help and usually cause more of a problem. All of those place significant pressure on your abdominals, often widening the separation and making diastasis recti severe if it wasn’t already. Abdominal separation is from a pressure problem, making those exercises more problematic. Countless women and men do these and other lower belly exercises, hoping it will create a flat belly, and for someone with diastasis recti, it can do the opposite.
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Diastasis Recti
Another factor to note is that our breathing impacts diastasis recti as our diaphragm makes up the top of our core. Notice if your rib cage is not expanding (diaphragmatic breathing) when you breathe, it is an issue. If you notice this, your pelvic floor is not ascending and descending as it should be. And this lack of movement in your pelvic floor when you breathe means you are creating extra pressure in your abdomen. This way of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing.
Our bodies are interconnected and work as a unit, so having diastasis recti will affect the rest of the core and body, leaving it compromised. Using diaphragmatic breathing exercises or exercises that encourage it is important. Addressing breathing without moving the diaphragm and rib cage is important. Remembering to breathe deeply as you move throughout the day is important. See the self-check video below, and if your hand on your chest when you breathe doesn’t move, you are not breathing deeply.
Healing Diastasis Recti at Home
Once you determine you have diastasis recti, you will want to address it. Because your core is weak with diastasis, you are more susceptible to injuries and other issues throughout your body. Planks and crunches will not fix diastasis recti. Healing abdominal separation with a program specifically designed for it may be required. When we have excessive pressure in our abdomen, our pelvic floor also experiences excessive pressure. So it often leads to pelvic floor issues and imbalances in both men and women. For diastasis recti in men, exercises help them just as they do for women.
Our pelvic floor supports our pelvic organs, and our transverse abdominis supports our spine and core, and with diastasis recti, these essential muscles are compromised. Many shallow breathers have a tight pelvic floor (hypertonic pelvic floor), which is undesirable and creates many other problems.
The Best Diastasis Repair Program
Our All Access program, built to restore your core and pelvic floor, is used by women worldwide to fix their diastasis recti. If you have diastasis recti, picture the abdominals coming together as you exercise and focus on breathing. I fixed my three-finger gap after both of my pregnancies with our programs. Strengthening your core and working to resolve it on your own will help you be stronger if you do need surgery. But for so many, they fix this issue without surgery or costly physical therapy. Whether your diastasis is new or has been there for years, it is never too late to start healing it. So what are you waiting for? Fix your diastasis recti once and for all.