A diastasis recti test is easy to find with a quick Google search. However, sometimes, a healthcare professional competent at performing one can be a lot harder to come by. The best place to start is with a good pelvic floor physical therapist. But if you want to learn the details yourself, this article will walk you through just that. Then, we’ll go one step further and show you how to apply the self-test when you exercise.
How to perform a diastasis recti test on yourself
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet resting flat on the floor. Raise your shirt up so that you can put your own hands on your skin.
2. Place your fingers in your belly button so that your fingernails are facing your feet. Lift just your head from the floor.
3. You should be able to feel the left and right sides of your abdominals pinch in around your fingers.
- If your abs can close down to a gap of less than 2 fingers, this is a negative test.
- A gap between the left and right sides of your abdominals of 2 to 4 fingers’ width is positive for a diastasis.
- If the gap is greater than 4 fingers’ width, it’s considered to be severe.
4. Then turn your fingers (still in your belly button) 90 degrees. Let your head down and pick it back up again.
- If your fingers meet a firm resistance (similar to a trampoline), this is a negative test (bottom picture).
- If your fingers sink down into a squishy space between your abs, this is positive for a diastasis (top picture).
5. You want to repeat the check for the width of the gap and the squishiness at several points between your belly button and your pubic bone.
6. Then, you need to check again for both of these at several points between your belly button and your breast bone.
A test is negative for diastasis recti when the gap is less than 2 fingers’ width AND there is adequate tension at ALL points between the pubic bone and breast bone.
Beyond the gap
We often describe diastasis recti as a separation of the rectus abdominal muscles, and we discuss it’s severity by measuring the space between them. However, what seems more significant than the gap is the ability to regulate tension, or the amount of squishiness. Pressure created within the abdomen determines the amount of tension, and there can be too much, too little, or varying amounts, depending on the task. The combination unique to each woman determines her symptoms, and these can include a mom pooch, back pain, or pelvic floor dysfunction, to name a few.
Rather than attempting to “close” the abs, women benefit more when the focus is on how to correctly USE their abs. This might involve combined efforts from the diaphragm, pelvic floor, hips, and even more distant body parts in some women. Healing from a diastasis is truly a whole body experience, but when it happens in this way, women are able to handle any task because they learn what’s necessary to generate appropriate intra-abdominal pressure.
Regulating intra-abdominal pressure
Intra-abdominal pressure is the force generated within the abdomen. We use this force to stabilize the spine, which allows for efficient trunk movement and provides a stable base from which arms and legs can function. A woman needs to be able to vary her intra-abdominal pressure to meet the task before her. For instance, far less pressure is needed to stand up from the couch than to lift a wet and wiggly toddler out of the bathtub. The ability to adjust to the changing demands of life equates to consistent and powerful movement and decreases the risk of injury.
With a diastasis recti test, the presence of squishiness, or a lack of tension, indicates that a woman is not generating enough pressure. This will not provide the necessary force to stimulate healing. Further, it means the abs are not contributing appropriately. When this is the case, some other part of the body has to pick up their slack, and this can result in increased injury risk to these areas.
On the other hand, some women may demonstrate a doming or bulging when performing a test for diastasis recti. This indicates that she is generating excessive outward pressure and her abs are also not contributing appropriately. Too much pressure can keep a diastasis from healing as well because the tissues in question remain consistently distended. In a similar way, too much pressure is also be responsible for the creation of hernias and in some cases, pelvic organ prolapse.
A functional diastasis recti test
Although the traditional diastasis recti test takes place lying on one’s back, most of life is not spent in this position. Further, the ability to appropriately regulate pressure while lying on your back doesn’t necessarily translate into this same ability in any other position.
From a functional standpoint, lying on the floor is a very basic position. If a diastasis exists in this position, it probably exists in more functional positions as well. Although not always. Sometimes, a woman might know how to bring enough pressure when there’s a higher demand and yet struggle when the demands are lesser.
Of course, the opposite happens even more often. A woman may generate appropriate pressure when lying on her back, but as she moves into more demanding positions (like a plank or even, just standing still), she’s no longer able to appropriately regulate intra-abdominal pressure.
How to make the most of your diastasis recti test
Hopefully, at this point, you understand that squishiness or bulging over the linea alba are far more significant than the space between your rectus abdominal muscles. They indicate what might or might not be happening from a functional standpoint. Additionally, you now know that lying on your back is only ONE position for checking a diastasis.
So, let’s make this information more applicable. A quick search of Google, or even Pinterest, will give you ready-made lists of exercises that are safe and not safe for a diastasis. I want you to know that none of these lists are worth a dime. Every woman is different, and it is impossible to apply the safety of any exercise on so broad a scale.
Instead, this is where your diastasis recti test comes in handy and gives you results unique to you. Want to know if you are correctly controlling your core when performing an exercise? Check for the results we discussed above. Do you have a squishiness or a bulging between your rectus abdominals? Or do you generate appropriate tension in that space? Does your abdomen have the right shape?
You can check for these results with any exercise. If you don’t have a hand available while performing an exercise—say a plank—enlist an assistant. Teach your spouse, partner, or friend how to test your diastasis. Then, they can check you in positions where you’re unsure. As another option, you can also make exercises easier until you are able to check with your own hand. For our plank example, you might move it to a higher surface until you can lift one hand to check yourself.
Over time, the use of your hand, or someone else’s, will become obsolete. As you focus on creating the necessary tension for a negative test, your brain will eventually figure out which muscles need to be used and which don’t. This will translate long term into the function you’re looking for in all positions, instead of misplaced worry about how much space is between your abs while lying on your back.