Abdominal separation or Diastasis Recti (DR) is a fairly common result of (although not limited to) pregnancy, whereby the connective tissue between the right and left abdominal muscles begins to thin, in response to the uterus pushing against the abdominal wall. The Rectus Abdominis muscles are pushed to the side as shown in the diagram.
It’s important to note here that the Rectus Abdominis is only 1 of 4 layers of muscle that make up the “abdominal wall”
- Transverse Abdominis (TA) is the deepest layer of muscle
- Interior and exterior obliques are the next 2 layers
- Rectus Abdominis is the outer most layer (the six pack muscles)
♦ ALL women have some level of diastasis of the rectus abdominis during the later stages of pregnancy
For some women, this separation is temporary and disappears within approx 8 weeks postpartum. For others …………………. it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, the connective tissue of the abdominal wall is stretched and weakened (think of blowing a bubble out of chewing gum and what it looks like after the bubble deflates). Not only is this connective tissue weakened however, it also impacts the entire musculature of the abdominal wall and “core” which encompasses the pelvic floor muscles. This, if left untreated, MAY cause lower back pain, digestive problems and pelvic instability.
Women most likely to experience DR are:
- Those who have had DR previously.
- Those who have had a multiple pregnancy (ie twins, triplets)
- Those with poor abdominal musculature.
- Those with unfortunate genetics.
BUT THERE IS HOPE…
This is NOT always a case of permanent damage and more often than not, does NOT require surgery! It is NOT a fact that your abdominal muscles will be weaker after pregnancy, and you DO NOT have to wait 8 weeks before beginning your postpartum rehab program!!!! (unless of course your personal medical professional has recommended it)
HOW DO I TEST FOR IT?
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on your belly button with your fingers pointing toward your toes.
- Keep your abdominals relaxed and then lift your head off the floor into a semi sit up.
- Move your fingers horizontally, feeling the right and left sides of the Rectus Abdominis muscles.
- Move your hand upward toward your ribs – feeling for the separation between the muscles. Then move your hand downward and find the widest point of separation (which will be around your belly button).
- Test to see the finger width of separation – or you could use a ruler.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Let’s begin by understanding that the human body is a single unit and our muscles don’t operate exclusively of each other. In order to address a certain illness, injury or in this case DR, we should be taking a holistic approach to rehabilitation.
Your rehabilitation program should encompass physical exercises in addition to nutrition, and a psychological component. All these work together to form a total rehab program. Done in isolation, each of these components will be less effective than when undertaken together.
The second thing to understand, is that strengthening the Rectus Abdominis (or six pack muscles) will NOT help your DR problem. You need to strengthen your deep underlying muscles, which are closest to the spine – your Transverse Abdominis or “TA” muscles.
Basically speaking, the TA is like a corset and performs a more stabilising and supporting role, rather than a movement role. Due to this reason the TA’s should be trained at a lower intensity but for longer periods – endurance type work.
TA workouts are the secret to reducing that separation!!! Work on strengthening the TA’s first and then the rest of the abdominal muscles (think of a pyramid and needing to have a strong base before you can build upon it). So this means going back to ABSOLUTE BASICS….even when you think this doesn’t apply to you…IT DOES!
PHASE 1: ISOLATE & STRENGTHEN – this can begin immediately (even if you gave birth last week or gave birth 20 years ago) and will go for approx 4 weeks, depending on how religious you are with your workouts and how your body is reacting to the exercises. The focus is on:
- Understanding how to activate the TA’s and pelvic floor muscles correctly.
- Building endurance and a strong base.
Exercises you could include: prone TA activation, pelvic floor activation, postural exercises and the pilates “stance”, belly scooping, kegel exercises, wall sits.
PHASE 2: BUILD DYNAMIC STABILITY – this phase can only begin once the base phase is completed IN ENTIRETY. You will not get the results you’re after if you skip workouts and cut corners. YOU MUST COMPLETE PHASE 1 FIRST. The focus is on:
- Increasing the load and movement
Exercises could include: belly scoop heel slides, bridge marching, reverse crunches, knee swaps, lower oblique twists.
Our SBF Challenge incorporates a full 8 week “S.B.F CORE REHABILITATION PROGRAM”, which entails
♦ Phase 1 for the first half of the challenge ♦ Phase 2 for the second half of the challenge
All you have to do is follow the very basic and progressional videos WITHOUT FAIL!