What is diastasis recti & how is it diagnosed?
Diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (AKA the six-pack muscles) as a result of pregnancy. Pregnancy causes diastasis recti because of the expansion of the uterus required to house the baby. All women experience some level of diastasis recti during the third trimester or immediately postpartum.
How does it impact women’s daily lives?
Diastasis can make daily tasks more difficult due to abdominal weakness. It can also cause:
- Distended abdomen
- Pelvic floor weakness
- Pain in the lower back
What are the risk factors for diastasis recti severity?
The severity of separation which occurs depends on factors such as genetics, activity levels prepartum and time between pregnancies. The time between pregnancies can increase the severity of diastasis recti if muscles and connecting tissue have not had sufficient time to heal post-pregnancy. The amount of separation does not equal to the severity of the condition. Women can have little separation but experience more symptoms associated with diastasis recti and similarly women who have large separation can have no issues with diastasis recti.
Can people recover naturally?
All pregnancies and diastasis recti events are different, so recovery is highly variable. Some women naturally recover well from diastasis recti postpartum. However, many women still have symptoms over one year postpartum and find that their abdominal muscles do not function properly. In certain cases surgery can be recommended to treat diastasis recti, however, appropriate individualised rehabilitation from an accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) can provide a less invasive pathway to recovery in many cases. It should be noted that diastasis recti is a completely normal part of pregnancy and post-partum recovery but that some individuals will require additional support in their recovery.
How is diastasis recti diagnosed?
An AEP or pelvic physiotherapist assesses for diastasis recti using a simple technique that can be attempted at home. An individual should follow these steps:
- Lay on your back with your knees, keeping your feet on the floor.
- Place two or three fingers horizontally across your belly button and slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
- If you observe your abdominal muscles separate in this movement, this is evidence of diastasis recti.
A health professional will also measure how many centimetres of separation are present.
How can an exercise physiologist help with diastasis recti?
AEP’s assist with various conditions related to pregnancy and postpartum including diastasis recti. An AEP will work with you to create a targeted exercise program that is safe for both you and your baby. Every woman and every pregnancy is different so it is important exercise is structured around your personal goals and the stage you are currently in with your pregnancy.
Using exercise as treatment of diastasis recti can begin early in pregnancy. Exercise during pregnancy and decreasing sedentary time leads to improved health outcomes for both the mother and the baby. Research shows that regular exercise to activate deep core stabilising muscles reduces diastasis recti during pregnancy and improves the ease of treatment of diastasis recti postpartum. This has the co-benefit of improving mental health and quality of life postpartum.
Exercise during recovery from diastasis recti should be progressive, starting with simple exercises and gradually increasing movement as recovery progresses. Early exercises may include breathing exercises that incorporate the diaphragm like those done in mediation and yoga. These exercises can begin shortly after birth. Progressively incorporating movements with breathing such as toe touches from tabletop position and glute bridges are beneficial too. These types of exercises are done in Pilates and reformer Pilates. An AEP can continue to work with you postpartum to assist you to treat your diastasis recti and safely return to exercises you enjoyed before pregnancy such as running, high-intensity training or lifting heavy weights. They can also work with you to help you safely perform everyday tasks that may be made more difficult due to diastasis recti such as walking upstairs, lifting your baby from the floor, or putting your baby in the car.
Can compression garments help with diastasis recti?
Compression tights are great for supporting muscle recovery from diastasis recti. Wearing compression tights is recommended during the first eight weeks post-partum to assist with the treatment of diastasis recti. Different types of compression tights can be worn for different stages of pregnancy and postpartum. SRC Health has a variety of compression garments that can be worn during pregnancy and postpartum. They are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, come in different lengths and colours and can be found here:
Find out more about how an exercise physiologist can work with you at the different stages of your pregnancy, get in touch with the team here.