What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles, also known as your “six-pack muscles”. The abdominal muscles are connected by the linea alba which is connective tissue down the middle of the muscles (the middle or divider of the six pack muscles). During pregnancy, this connective tissue becomes stretched and the abdominals separate to allow for growth of the baby and increasing abdominal pressure. Diastasis recti often persists after giving birth though and contributes to decreased support for your internal organs as well as decreased trunk stability. Due to decreased trunk stability diastasis recti may impact other areas of your body contributing to issues such as low back pain or difficulty engaging the core muscles.
How do you know if you have it?
Diastasis recti is very, very common and many women do not even realize they have it. It is evident when contracting the abdominal muscles as a protruding bulge down the middle of the abdominals/stomach. Clinically it is defined as a gap of roughly 2.7cm between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscles, which is similar to two finger widths or more. To check if you may have diastasis recti lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Place two fingers just below your belly button. Then apply gentle pressure through your fingers as you gently lift up to do a crunch or sit up motion. If you are able to feel a space between your abdominals that is wider than two fingers you may have diastasis recti. You may also be able to see a visible arch between your abdominal muscles as you lift up.
Is it possible to recover from Diastasis Recti?
It is possible to heal and recover from diastasis recti, even if it has been present for several years. Recovering from diastasis recti may take time though as it is necessary to heal the connective tissue, not just strengthen the abdominal muscles.
How can Pilates help?
Pilates focuses on engagement of the inner core muscles which consists of the diaphragm, transverse abdominis (inner most abdominal muscles), pelvic floor muscles and multifidus (the inner most back muscles). The transverse abdominis muscles run horizontally around the abdomen and work as a corset to help stabilize the spine and pelvis. Focusing on the activation and strengthening of the inner core, especially the transverse abdominis, is a major component of healing and regaining trunk stability. Movements to improve diastasis recti should be focused on the proper engagement of the transverse abdominis and pelvic floor. Any action or exercise that causes the stomach to bulge or protrude forward should not be practiced; traditional ab strengthening exercises such as sit ups, planks and crunches may actually exaggerate the separation.
To learn more or for further assessment of diastasis please contact Deep Physiotherapy. Please also feel free to schedule a direct one-on-one session with a physiotherapist to learn the basic principles of Pilates and receive exercises specific to your presentation. Small group sessions (two to three people) are also an option if you are interested in having friends accompany you for a Pilates session.