The Ultimate Guide To Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti can be difficult to understand. There's a lot of conflicting information out there. The purpose of this guide is to give you insight on some of the nuance. It will also explain details about what to look for, how to problem solve on your own, and when to ask for help.
Feel free to read it through from beginning to end or skip around to answer your specific questions.
What is diastasis recti?
In simple terms, diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles that occurs in ALL mothers during pregnancy. The connective tissue between the abs stretches and thins during pregnancy. This occurs as the baby grows and the forces within the abdomen increase.
After the baby is born, the tissue will remodel again. In some women, it remodels back to more or less its previous state. However, in others, it remains separated--the condition we know as diastasis recti.
We measure a diastasis not only in terms of the gap between the ab muscles but also with respect to the tension in the soft tissue. When a woman is able to generate appropriate tension in that soft tissue, it seems to have less of an impact on her life. However, when she has too much or too little tension, she can have problems such as pelvic floor dysfunction, low back pain, a hernia, or weakness.
What are the symptoms?
Because the term 'diastasis recti' refers to a separation of the abdominals, you're most likely to notice it in your belly. However, in actuality, it's a condition that impacts the whole body.
Signs that you may have a diastasis can include coning or doming at the midline of the belly, a bread loaf-like shape with sitting up, or a belly that still looks pregnant.
Diastasis recti can also be accompanied by lower back pain, postural changes, gastrointestinal issues, or pelvic floor dysfunction. None of these mean that you have a diastasis, but they can be a sign that it's worth investigating.
Do I have a diastasis?
For the very best answer to this question, you'll want to consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist. They are the experts on pregnant and postpartum bodies.
Here are a couple resources to find one near you:
In the meantime, you can also perform a self-test at home with these step-by-step directions. Once you know what you're looking for, it's important to apply this concept to movement, in general, and especially to exercise.
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What causes diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is a normal occurrence during pregnancy. The hormones that increase soft tissue laxity allow a mother's body to grow and stretch to accommodate the baby. This is why diastasis recti occurs in 100% of pregnant women.
On the other hand, diastasis resolves for some women in the weeks and months after delivery, while for others, it doesn't. So, why the difference? Well, research tells us it's not related to:
- weight gain
- baby's birth weight
- delivery method; or,
- heavy lifting
Obviously, this topic needs further research, but here are several factors that we know DO influence healing.
How can I fix diastasis recti?
If you have diastasis recti, you may be unhappy with the shape of your belly or with pain, weakness, or dysfunction in your body. The first thing to understand is that you do not fix a diastasis to solve these problems. Rather, you solve these problems to heal a diastasis.
Diastasis, belly pooch, back pain or urinary incontinence can all exist in the same woman, in any combination, or any of them can occur in isolation. They are all symptoms of an issue with how the core manages and regulates pressure, not separate problems.
To solve any of them, an individualized plan is key. It is necessary to address components of healing as well as strength and movement habits. You can find more information on developing such a plan here.
Which exercises should I do?
You've probably already heard that exercise is a key component in healing diastasis recti. But do you really have to stick with the simple and basic exercises until your diastasis goes away?
The short answer is no. The basics are important because they lay the best foundation. If regulating internal pressure is difficult, you will need to understand the muscles involved and how to make them work in your favor. You will also need a handle on the effects of posture and alignment.
But after you establish these things, muscles need progressive overload to get stronger. This means moving on from basic exercises to ones that challenge you in specific ways. You will also need to apply these concepts to more than just exercise. Find out here how to make sure you see real success in your daily life.
Which exercises should I avoid?
When you have diastasis recti, it can be so hard to know which exercises you should NOT do. A quick internet search can reveal list after list of off-limits activities. But, is that forever? And if not, for how long?
The truthful answer is it depends. No two women are the same, and neither are the separations of their abs. Exercises that are perfect for one woman can be a disaster for the next.
Instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach, the best solution is to learn the specifics of what to look for in your own body. Then, you can apply these to any exercise and know when you need to progress, modify, or hold off all together. You can learn exactly how to apply this concept to yourself.