A diastasis recti test isn’t too hard to come by, although A LOT of doctors are not as practiced in them as you might expect. The professional most qualified to give you accurate results with this test is a pelvic floor physical therapist, but if you want to do one for yourself, a quick Google search will give you lots of examples.
Let’s cover the basics on how to do a self-test, and then, we’ll dig a little deeper.
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 not considered a diastasis.
- A gap between the left and right sides of your abdominals of 2 to 4 fingers’ width is considered a diastasis.
- If the gap is greater than 4 fingers’ width, it’s considered a severe diastasis.
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 not a diastasis (left picture).
- If your fingers sink down into a squishy space between your abs, this is another sign of a diastasis (right 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.
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 intra-abdominal pressure. This can mean too much or too little pressure, and it results in the symptoms typically associated with diastasis recti, including a mom pooch, back pain, or pelvic floor dysfunction.
Rather than strictly measuring a gap, women benefit more when the focus is on how to use their abs versus how to “close” their abs. Using the abdominal muscles correctly involves combined efforts from the diaphragm, pelvic floor, hips, and even more distant body parts in some women. Instead, this puts the focus on how to coordinate all of these muscles to bring an appropriate amount of intra-abdominal pressure for the task at hand.
Regulating intra-abdominal pressure
Intra-abdominal pressure is important because it helps to provide stability to the spine. This allows an individual to assume postures and positions that maximize the effectiveness of their muscles and limbs. In doing this, they become more powerful while also decreasing the risk of injury and the likelihood of causing pain.
With a diastasis recti test, the presence of a squishiness, or a lack of tension between the rectus abdominal muscles, indicates that a woman is not generating enough pressure. In other words, the forces of lifting her head are not evenly distributed throughout her trunk.
On the other hand, some women may demonstrate a doming or bulging when performing a test for diastasis recti. This indicates that she is bringing more pressure than is necessary for the task at hand. She is working harder than she needs to be to perform the task because she is not using her muscles in an efficient way.
A functional diastasis recti test
Another important consideration when performing a diastasis recti test is the position of the woman. Although the traditional test takes place lying on one’s back, most of life is not spent in this position. Furthermore, the ability to appropriately regulate pressure while lying on your back does not necessarily translate into this same ability in any other position.
Lying on the floor is a very basic position as far as functional ability goes. 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 is no longer able to appropriately control the forces in her abdomen.
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. The short answer is 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 are you able to generate 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.