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How to Fix Diastasis Recti and Safe Exercises
During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant changes to accommodate the growing baby. One of the most common changes is the expansion of the abdominal muscles. As a result, most women will experience an indentation in the centre of their bellies. A wider separation is referred to as diastasis recti.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the definition of diastasis recti, its potential complications if not diagnosed and treated early, how to tell if you have it, exercises that can help treat it as well as exercises you should avoid in the course of healing.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti refers to the complete or partial separation of abdominal muscles known as rectus abdominis or informally as ‘six pack’ muscles. Some doctors call it abdominal separation.
This condition occurs during pregnancy or sometimes after delivery. Diastasis recti is more prevalent in pregnancies that involve a larger than average or more than one foetus. It happens when the womb stretches the abdominal muscles to provide room for the growing baby, which leads to the separation of the ab muscles. According to a National Centre for Biotechnology Information study, about 60% of women experience diastasis recti when pregnant or after giving birth.
If not treated after delivery, your tummy may bulge through your ab muscles and make you look like you’re still expectant. This is what is referred to as mummy tummy or mommy pooch.
However, diastasis recti doesn’t occur in women only. It can also affect men and newborn babies. In men, it could result from undertaking excessive exercises and inappropriately lifting heavyweights. Babies who are born prematurely are at a higher risk of suffering from diastasis recti. That’s because their ab muscles haven’t completely developed at that point and may not have connected at the midline.
Potential Complications of Diastasis Recti
If not treated, diastasis recti can result in more issues. They include:
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Posture damage
- Mobility and trunk stability problems
- Pelvic floor dysfunction
- Hernia, although rare
How Do You Know You Have Diastasis Recti?
While pregnant, you may not have any visible symptoms of abdominal muscle separation. However, in the second or third trimesters, a ridge or bulge may start to develop below or above your belly button. You may notice it when you try to lie down, sit, or stand up using your ab muscles. If the pelvic, back, or abdominal pain is extreme, it’s advisable to seek medical assistance immediately.
After giving birth, it’s advisable to visit your midwife or doctor regularly to check your abdominal muscles. The specialist will use an ultrasound or a calliper to accurately establish whether your muscles have separated. If they have separated, your specialist will recommend physiotherapy and exercises that will help with healing.
If you want to self-check, the most common symptom of diastasis recti postpartum is a pooch or bulge on your tummy. If you can’t see the bulge, you can use the following technique to check for muscle separation as well as its size.
- Lie on your back, bend your legs, and ensure your feet are flat on the floor.
- Slightly lift your shoulders off the floor, place one of your hands on your head, and then look down at your tummy.
- Move the other hand below and above the navel, and along with the ab muscles. Once you feel the muscle edges, try to fit your fingers in between the muscles to establish if there’s a gap and measure its size.
If you notice the presence of a gap–which is often a separation of at least one finger length–, you could be having moderate diastasis recti. The gap should start reducing as your ab muscles reacquire strength several weeks post-delivery.
When you’re exercising to fix diastasis recti, you can use the same technique to find out whether the gap between your ab muscles is decreasing.
Exercises That Can Help Fix Diastasis Recti…
Some exercises can help fix diastasis recti and help restore the core’s strength quickly. These therapeutic exercises include:
Heel slides involve sliding your leg far from your body then retracting your heel backwards near your butts. This exercise stretches the muscles right above your thigh and helps you reclaim your range of motion (ROM).
To perform heel slides, lie flat on your back, bend your knees 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Retract your lower abdomen towards your spine. Slowly straighten one of your legs on the floor, and then return it to the initial point. Now repeat this process with the other leg and do it up to three times for each side.
Pelvic tilts entail subtle spinal movements aimed at stretching and strengthening your abdominal muscles.
First, lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull your pelvis backwards and flatten your lower back against the floor, then revert to your initial spot. Do this slowly and consciously at least 10 times.
The easiest way to treat diastasis recti is by standing tall without slouching. That helps to engage the core muscles and fix their separation.
Anytime you’re moving around with your child in a stroller, try to draw your navel towards your spine while walking. Engage your muscles minus holding your breath.
Deep Abdominal Muscle Exercise
This exercise helps in strengthening the spine and core to facilitate diastasis recti healing.
Lie flat on your side or back, bend your knees, and retract your abdomen towards your spine. Do this for about 10 seconds without holding your breath, and then relax. Repeat this procedure at least 10 times.
Also, when lying on your back, bending your knees and retracting your lower abdominal muscles, you can gradually lower one of your knees to the side up to 5cm level then return it. Ensure your hips are flat on the floor and don’t lift or roll when your leg is descending. Do this five times with each leg.
Exercises You Should Avoid
If you have diastasis recti, there are movements and exercises that you need to avoid completely. These exercises can exert more stress on your midline and expand or stretch your abdominal wall. They include:
- Ab crunches
- Jumping out of bed
- Exercises that can distend your abdomen
The secret to improving diastasis recti symptoms is through rebuilding your core from the inside out. However, the healing period is different from one person to another, as well as the severity of the diastasis. Employing the above exercises can help with healing and restore your full body function much faster.