Diastasis recti or diastasis rectus abdominis occurs when the outer abdominal muscles separate. It's easiest to think of the "6-pack ab" muscles for diastasis recti. These muscles, the rectus abdominis muscles, naturally separate during pregnancy. By the third trimester, up to 66% of women will experience diastasis. While it causes no harm to you or the baby, it can create problems ranging from aesthetic to pelvic floor issues due to muscle imbalances. First, we'll review a little bit more about diastasis recti. Then, we'll dive into exercises to correct diastasis recti.
How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti?
When pregnant, it can be relatively tricky to know if you have diastasis recti due to the nature of having a growing baby in your belly. However, there are a few things that can help you figure it out.
Doming in the middle of the abdominal muscles during exercise
Pelvic floor dysfunction
weakness in the abdominal muscles can lead to pelvic floor issues
Lower back pain postpartum
not a tell-tale sign of diastasis, but if the back pain is persistent, diastasis could be part of the problem
Pain during intercourse
Difficulty lifting things
Diagnosis by a healthcare provider
Physical therapists who specialize in women's health are specially trained to assess for diastasis
This depends. Exercise is always the first line treatment (assuming there are no severe medical issues). While exercise has definitely been shown to help improve diastasis recti, there are a lot of factors that go into how much improvement exercise can offer. In addition to exercise, learning correct movement strategies to incorporate into everyday life can be just as helpful.
Exercises to Correct Diastasis
The following not an exhaustive list when it comes to exercise to correct diastasis. Just google "exercises for diastasis" and you'll find a laundry list of examples. The following are things I've found professionally as a physical therapist that help heal diastasis recti. And this goes for 6 weeks to years after baby.
Avoid holding your breath with lifting or bowel movements
Practice 360 breathing
Exhale all the air long and slow, hold for 5 seconds
Big 360 inhale, deep with a lot of ribcage movement
Gently contract your abdominal muscles with the pelvic floor as you exhale
Work on pelvic floor coordination and relaxation. Relax as you inhale, squeeze and lift the pelvic floor as you exhale.
Think of trying to stand taller with the rib cage lined up directly over the hips. Avoid flaring your rib cage out.
Begin lying on your back with your legs bent and feet resting on the ground.
Place your fingers just inside the bones on the front of your pelvis. Exhale, and gently pull the muscles under your fingers in. Relax and repeat.
Make sure to draw in rather than push out your muscles. This should be a subtle movement.
2. Heel Slide Exercise
Begin lying on your back with your legs straight.
Slowly slide one heel on the floor toward your buttocks, until you feel a stretch in your knee or upper leg, then slide it back out and repeat. While you are doing this, be sure to keep the transverse abdominis engaged.
Make sure not to arch your low back or twist your body as you move your leg.
3. Marching Exercise
Lie on your back with your knees bent.
Lift your legs off the ground to form a 90 degree angle. Slowly lower one leg, touching your toes to the floor, then return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Throughout the exercise, maintain engagement of the deep core muscles.
Do not allow your low back to arch during the exercise.
Begin lying on your back on top of a long sheet or towel with your knees bent, feet resting flat on the floor.
Pull the sheet across your abdomen, crossing the sheet over the middle of your belly. As you exhale, gently draw in your deep abdominal muscles and lift your head and top of your shoulder blades off the floor. Lower your head and relax your arms. Repeat.
Make sure that your abdomen is not pushing out, and continue breathing during the exercise. Do not hold your breath.
Learning to exercises to correct diastasis recti and movement patterns to help can improve postpartum recovery and feeling of well-being.
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