Abdominal muscle separation or rectus diastasis- what is it?
A rectus diastasis is a widening of the already present gap between the 2 sides of the rectus abdominis muscle at the front of the abdomen. The rectus abdominis can be referred to as the ‘6 pack muscle’ and the word diastasis refers to separation. Hence, the condition is a separation of the tummy muscles.
What causes this separation?
It is important to be aware that 100% of pregnant women develop a diastasis during pregnancy. There is no other way for the abdomen to expand! The rectus muscle is designed to widen which prevents the muscle from tearing. Where problem can occur is when the diastasis doesn’t reduce postnatally. Even then, rarely does it cause pain or dysfunction. It is often more of a cosmetic worry as a very large diastasis can mean the tummy looks ‘fatter’ or more bulged. Very few women develop dysfunction. In a small number of women rectus diastasis can cause dysfunction which includes persistent back and pelvic pain and pelvic floor dysfunction such as incontinence. Therefore, it can be very helpful to have diastasis checked and treated postnatally!
What can be done to help?
Remember 100% of pregnant women will develop diastasis! The body usually recovers very well in the first 3 months postnatal. There are many things you can do after delivery that will help allow the diastasis to ‘close’, make sure you:
- Wear abdominal support, such as Tubigrip™, or high and comfortable exercise tights or firm compressive underwear.
- Avoid activities which challenge the outer abdominals such as sit-ups, abdominal crunches, running, jumping and planks until your abdomen has been checked by a physiotherapist or your health care provider.
- Avoiding sitting up in bed and instead rolling when getting into or out of bed.
- Minimising lifting anything heavier than your baby or anything that causes your tummy to bulge with strain.
- Avoid constipation and straining on the toilet.
- Start pelvic floor exercises early. From day 1 post birth you can begin gentle pelvic floor squeezes. As you do these exercises the deep abdominal muscles will also contract promoting tensioning and recovery of the abdomen.
- Engage your pelvic floor muscles when you move or lift can help. For example upon sit-stand, when getting out of bed or when lifting our baby.
- Seeing a women’s health physiotherapist who can prescribe individualised and specific exercises and/or stretches to strengthen and improve the deep abdominal muscles, which will help strengthen and tone the abdomen and pelvic floor safely.
Would you like tips on how to maintain a healthy body throughout pregnancy? Access your free ebook here!
If you suspect you have abdominal separation and would like some help to address the appearance and/or feel of it. Please come and see our expert women’s health physiotherapist at Synergy Physio.