In this post, you are going to learn everything you need to know about diastasis recti.
Specifically, you’ll learn:
- What is it,
- Why it happens,
- How to prevent it, and
- How to know if you have it
I’ll also point you to a resource on how to treat it with exercise.
Are you ready?
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a condition that occurs when your abdominal muscles separate along the midline. The area that connects the two rectus muscles is known as the linea alba.
There is a bit of controversy over how large a separation should be present to diagnose the condition, which we will get into a little later.
It is most commonly seen in postpartum women, but it can also happen in men, and in infants.
Why Does It Occur?
Separation of your rectus abdominis muscle is thought to occur from a weakness of the linea alba. This may occur secondary to excessive pressure placed on your abdominal wall from a growing uterus.
However, this condition can be acquired, meaning you are born with it.
As such, you are either
- born with diastasis, or
- you are more likely to develop it with any stretching of your abdomen as seen in pregnancy or obesity
How Common Is It?
Diastasis recti is thought to occur in anywhere from 30-60% of women postnatally.
Another study found that it was present in up to 35-39% of women who were 6 months postpartum using ultrasound to diagnose it.
Interestingly, that same study found that 100% of all 84 women tested, had it during the 35th week of pregnancy.
Can Diastasis Recti Be Prevented?
There is one thing that you can do to decrease your risk of developing diastasis recti.
Strengthening your core pre-pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk by 35%.
In addition, there are other safe abdominal exercises you can do during pregnancy to further strengthen your core. I discuss these over at 18 Safe Transverse Abdominis Exercises You Can Do In Pregnancy.
Other things that you can do.
- Maintain a normal BMI: Easier said than done, but obesity may increase your risk of abdominal wall separation .
How To Tell If You Have Diastasis Recti
There is one simple test to determine if you have diastasis recti.
Its a modified curl-up.
Here’s how to do it.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Take one hand and place your fingers right above your belly button.
- Next, elevate your head off the floor as if you were going to do a crunch – but do not lift your shoulders off the floor.
- If you feel your fingers sink into your abdomen (and it feels a bit squishy) then you have abdominal wall separation.
You can check in three different locations.
- At your belly button
- Above your belly button
- Below your belly button
Unfortunately, there is no actual medical standard to diagnose the condition.
There is controversy over how much separation should be considered normal, and how much is abnormal.
Also, the degree of abdominal wall separation does not correlate with symptoms.
With that said, most people agree that 2 centimeters (about the width of two fingers) is abnormal.
How To Check For Diastasis Recti If You’re Overweight
If the modified curl-up test cannot be done due to excess fat in your abdomen, then you do have another option.
An ultrasound or a CT scan can make the diagnosis, but you will need your doctor to order the imaging study.
Other Diastasis Recti Symptoms/Associations
The most common symptoms that occur with diastasis recti include the following:
- A general feeling of weakness in the abdomen,
- Abdominal protrusion of internal organs,
- Low back pain
Any weakening of the abdomen can lead to changes in your pelvic posture, placing excessive pressure on the lower back.
Diastasis recti may also be associated with other disorders of the pelvic floor muscles such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Is There An Effective Treatment For Diastasis Recti?
As of right now, there is no clear cut treatment that cures diastasis recti.
But there’s good news.
But you must be careful.
It is important that you get clearance from your medical provider first before doing any kind of exercise activity- especially if you are postpartum.
If you are ~6 weeks postpartum, and your doctor has given you the green light, then you should give exercise a try.
Strengthen The Transverse Abdominis Muscle (TVA)
The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your abdomen like a corset.
It basically functions by compressing your abdomen and ribs.
The good news is:
You can train this muscle with very simple exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing and pelvic tilts.
Here’s what they look like:
Strengthen The Obliques
The other important muscle that you must strengthen is the oblique.
These muscles sit alongside your rectus abdomins underneath your ribcage.
They are responsible flexing your spine laterally, and rotating your spine.
You can strengthen these muscles with static exercises such as modified side plank abductions and modified mountain climbers.
Here is what they look like:
Only After You Strengthen Your TVA and Obliques Should You Train Your Rectus
Last but not least, you need to do exercises that strengthen your rectus abdominis, aka the 6-pack.
It’s important that you use this progression to avoid worsening your abdominal wall separation.
But don’t worry, you won’t have to figure this out all on your own!
100 Exercises For Diastasis Recti
I have a great resource for you to help you get started. It goes over 100 different exercises you can do to strengthen your core safely and effectively.
Check it out below.
When doing an exercise routine, you can check for progress every 2-3 weeks.
But it’s important that you do not get discouraged if you don’t see results right away.
You need to follow a program for at least 8 weeks to determine if it is working for you.
What Exercises Should You Avoid If You Have DR?
In general, there are a few exercises you should avoid if you have diastasis recti.
These include any exercise that places excessive pressure on your abdominal muscles.
- Heavy lifting
- Twisting Exercises
That’s not to say you won’t ever be able to do these exercises.
In fact, I show you how to progress up to exercises like the plank in the post above.
What If Exercise Doesn’t Help?
If your abdominal wall separation is causing you significant distress, and exercise has not helped, you can be referred for surgical repair.
Usually, this procedure is done by a Plastic Surgeon.
One of the most common surgeries is an abdominoplasty, aka “the tummy tuck.”
Do Belly Bands Help?
Wearing an abdominal band or binder is a common method many women use to treat abdominal wall separation.
As of right now, there is no evidence that this will help reduce or treat diastasis recti.
With that said, some women prefer to wear the abdominal binder immediately postpartum for abdominal wall support when walking.
Is Diastasis Recti The Same As a Hernia?
Diastasis recti is not the same as an abdominal wall hernia.
A hernia occurs from a weakening or a defect (hole) in your fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that holds your internal organs in place.
You may or may not have fascial weakness with diastasis.
Can You Get Diastasis Recti In Pregnancy?
Yes, you can get diastasis recti in pregnancy. One study of 84 women found that all of them had diastasis recti (diagnosed by ultrasound) by 35 weeks of gestation.
The thought is that the expanding uterus exerts high amounts of pressure on the linea alba. This pressure weakens the linea alba allowing the rectus muscles to separate.
Can you Fix Diastasis Recti Without Surgery?
The first-line treatment option for diastasis recti is conservative. This means a trial of exercise and weight loss.
If after 12-24 weeks, you do not notice any improvement in your abdominal wall separation, then surgery may be necessary.
Always check with your healthcare provider for more personalized information.
Final Words On How To Know If You Have Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti is a common condition that can negatively impact your quality of life.
But the good news is, you have the power to do something about it!
So, I want to hear from you.
When did you get diastasis recti?
What have you tried to fix it?
Comment below and let me know!
- 100 Exercises For Diastasis Recti
- When Can You Do Abs After Pregnancy
- 18 Safe Ab Exercises You Can Do In Pregnancy
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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