Sometimes, doing crunches and sit-ups simply isn’t enough to restore your stomach to its previous state after pregnancy. While some flaccidity is expected after childbirth, there are instances where it is more than usual, such as with diastasis recti. Ultimate Health Clinic has created this guide to help explain what diastasis recti is, why it needs to be treated, and how physiotherapy can help.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a separation between the muscles of a person’s abdomen, called the rectus abdominus abdominal muscles. For women who have yet to bear a child, the normal separation is one centimeter. This one finger separation is typically located from slightly above to slightly below the belly button.
During pregnancy, these muscles will naturally separate as the fetus grows. Hormones released during pregnancy will also trigger connective tissues to relax even further. The separation will typically reverse itself after the birth of the child. Actual recovery can occur any time from a day after birth up to 8 weeks postpartum. After giving birth, the average separation grows from one centimeter to 1.5 to two centimeters around the belly button.
Rectus diastasis is most noticeable for women when they perform sit-ups or when they are lifting their child. A bulge becomes visible when the ab muscles contract, and, in some cases, it can also be felt.
Does Diastasis Recti Cause Other Problems?
Weak abdominal muscles reduce the overall integrity of the abdominal area. Rectus diastasis may also lead to pelvic girdle pain, lower back pain, and instability in the pelvic area. The muscles of the pelvic floor work with the abs to balance and transfer the load via the pelvis efficiently. When these areas malfunction, women who suffer from rectus diastasis may develop other problems, including prolapse or incontinence.
What Treatments Are Available?
A great treatment for diastasis recti is exercise therapy that specifically targets the separated muscles. Abdominal exercise is used to generate a horizontal force that will effectively reduce or close the gap in the abdominal muscles. It is important to utilize the right exercise because certain types will ultimately increase the gap instead of closing it.
Exercise performed during or after pregnancy is beneficial as well. Whichever exercises are chosen, they must generate constant tension over the abs and control intra-abdominal pressure. Working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist will help ensure that a person is performing exercise in a way that helps to close the gap and not increase it.
What Happens During Exercise Therapy?
Treatment will depend on a person’s particular condition. The amount of abdominal separation will also play a role. Those that are less than four finger widths apart can be treated with corrective exercise. The corrective exercises should target the inner core and support muscle strengthening.
Physiotherapy for diastasis recti treats more than the separation of the muscles. It also works to retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor, which are often overlooked when treating diastasis recti. Almost 80% of women who suffer from diastasis recti are unable to create a pelvic floor contraction. As a result, these women are more prone to developing pelvic pain, prolapse, and incontinence. Body mechanics, posture, and restriction in the joints and tissues may also contribute to poor patterns of movement.
For large separations, mainly those four finger-widths and above, therapy will often be paired with a binder or corset. It should be on 24 hours a day except during bathing or exercise. In cases where exercise therapy has proven to be ineffective, abdominoplasty may be considered.
How We Can Help
For women who are concerned about diastasis recti, it is critical to seek the services of a health care practitioner. The physiotherapist here at Ultimate Health Clinic in Holland Landing is trained in various techniques, including pelvic floor physiotherapy. Our skilled physiotherapist can create a customized plan to treat your diastasis recti and gently guide you through your rehabilitation. For more information, give us a call at (905) 251-0162.