Diastasis recti, short for diastasis rectus abdominis, is right up there on the list of undesirable side effects of pregnancy. It happens when the left and right sides of abdominal muscles (or the rectus abdominis muscle, commonly known as the “six-pack muscles”) are pulled apart as the uterus bulges out. This usually occurs in the second or third trimester.
While diastasis recti affects almost every pregnant woman, it’s not something that should be overlooked. In many cases, the condition can go away on its own as the body recovers naturally. However, you might be running some long-term risks by leaving it all to nature, including permanent defects in your appearance, posture, and overall health.
Diastasis recti exercises should be a top checklist item for pregnant women keen on regaining their normal shape. With a pelvic floor physical therapist, you can strengthen your core by reducing your potbelly and instead enjoy an overall improved quality of life.
Does Physical Therapy Work for Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti occurs due to an overstretched and weakened connective tissue called the linea alba, which joins the left and right sides of the “six packs”. This band of muscles supports your abdominal region, from the stomach to bladder, uterus, and rectum.
If pregnant, as the fetus grows, it pushes against the abdominal wall, which stretches the linea alba as the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle pull away from each other.
Not only do separated abdominal muscles result in a deformed body shape, but you can also experience issues with your internal organs, movement restrictions, breathing difficulties, hip pain, and other symptoms.
Unfortunately, these all can add to the throes of pregnancy, causing pain, discomfort, urinary bowel problems, etc.
How Do You Know If You Have Diastasis Recti?
Although the thought of abdominal muscles separating sounds cringe-worthy, it’s usually symptomless in many cases (aside from the physical deformity). However, some patients experience a range of symptoms depending on the severity of the separation and other unique body factors.
Diastasis recti usually occurs during the second or third trimester, when the fetus experiences rapid growth and becomes fully developed.
Common symptoms include:
Palpable separation of abdominal muscles or flabby muscles felt when rubbing the stomach
Feeling discomfort and weakness around the midsection
Challenges performing certain activities
Pains around the lower back, pelvic, and hips
Deformed trunk posture
Pelvic-floor muscle dysfunction
Urinary or bowel problems
Tenting or doming of the middle stomach during weight lifting activities and certain exercises
What Factors Put You At Risk of Developing Diastasis Rectus Abdominis?
Diastasis recti isn’t exclusive to pregnant or postpartum women. It can happen in just about any situation where the abdominal muscles are worn out and pulled out of shape. These include people who have:
Frequent or rapid changes in weight
Risk factors from genetics
Had multiple pregnancies
Had multiple children in a pregnancy
Poor weight-bearing posture overbearing on the stomach wall
Infants are often born with a diastasis rectus abdominis but they naturally go away over time.
How Best To Treat It?
In many pregnancies, diastasis rectus abdominis goes away on its own within three months of birth (postpartum). However, it can persist for much longer in some cases where the muscles continue to grow weaker, causing permanent visible changes to your trunk shape.
Since diastasis recti is commonplace, you’ve probably heard of some popular conventional DIY measures (probably from women you know with pregnancy experience). But, it’s always best to talk to a health expert.
A physical therapist can help treat diastasis recti with physical therapy that uses effective exercise strategies to help your core muscles and stomach muscles.
When crafting your personalized diastasis recti treatment plan, a physical therapist will focus specifically on factors affecting your strength, mobility, and exercises to restore normal breathing patterns and postural support.
Physical therapy treatment will be geared towards improving your abdominal muscle strength, overall strength and stamina, posture, movement during certain activities, flexibility, and breathing.
Does a Pelvic Floor Therapist Help with Diastasis Recti?
As with most conditions, timing is key in recovering from diastasis recti. The earlier you report your diastasis recti abdominis to a physical therapist, the greater your chances of a quick, easy recovery. This will make things easier and less expensive than asking how to fix diastasis recti years later. Ideally, you should address your rectus abdominis during your antenatal and postnatal periods.
A physical therapist will examine a range of factors to determine the best action plan for you. These factors usually include pregnancy, labor and delivery history, symptom severity, medical history, lifestyle issues like activities that affect your abdomen, etc.
Your therapist will examine your diastasis rectus abdominis physically by massaging your stomach to assess the extent of the space between your abdominal muscles. They’ll also examine orthopedic factors like your posture, muscle strength, and the degree of separation.
Here’s what you can expect from your tailored physical therapy plan:
The primary goal of physical therapists is to guide you in making the best choices in managing your symptoms. They’ll explain everything you need to know about the condition, the pros and cons of the choices made, and risk factors that can hamper your recovery.
Not only will they craft a safe, effective recovery plan for you, but they’ll also monitor your progress closely, providing safe hands-on care and making recommendations along the way to ensure sure you return to your normal life as quickly as possible.
Addressing postural defects also helps resolve other symptoms of diastasis recti like breathing problems and pains around the lower body. Your postural training will focus on your deep core muscles, transverse abdominis muscles, diaphragm, low back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles.
Your physical therapist will help you gain back overall body balance, showing you how best to move and stand when going about your normal daily activities.
Diastasis Recti Exercises
Exercising early on in your pregnancy can help significantly reduce the likelihood of developing diastasis rectus abdominis. Studies show that performing pelvic-floor stabilization exercises in the early stages of pregnancy can help assuage abdominal pressure that induces diastasis rectus abdominis.
Diastasis recti exercises focus on the four layers of the abdominal muscle, including the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis. Your physical therapist will guide you through exercises that are just right for you, so you don’t go overboard and end up weakening your muscles.
Besides improving your muscle function, diastasis recti exercises will also help you address muscle imbalances, ensuring that each muscle gets the right level of stimulation.
To provide additional support for your core muscles, your therapist might recommend getting abdominal braces or tapes during pregnancy or the early stage of recovery. Abdominal braces are a muscle aid that helps hold the stomach muscles and connective tissue in the correct position while they heal.
Physical therapists will ensure you use the right type of braces – not too tight or loose to strengthen the muscles.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Besides exercises and posture training, you can also stimulate healing in your muscles with a treatment called electrical muscle stimulation. It entails stimulating the muscles externally using neuromuscular electrical stimulation. It’s used in many cases to minimize symptoms, reduce the degree of separation, and improve muscle health.
What Exercises Make Diastasis Recti Worse?
Exercise is key to resolving diastasis recti, but it could also become your undoing if you get it wrong. That’s why it’s important to work closely with a physical therapist who’s well-trained in pelvic health issues and women’s health physical therapy. Your therapist will guide you carefully through your physical therapy treatment, ensuring you avoid moves and poses that could derail your recovery.
In fact, most traditional exercises are actually counterproductive to diastasis recti patients. These include:
Other activities that can worsen diastasis rectus abdominis include:
Certain yoga poses like downward dog
Activities that involve bearing
Weight on your hands or knees
It’s imperative to choose a pelvic health physical therapist who’s well-versed with pelvic floor problems and pregnancy and postpartum rehabilitation. Otherwise, you might end up with a therapist who recommends any of these traditional exercises not knowing they’re betting on a poor training technique.
What’s more, a well-trained physical therapist will be able to monitor your progress and recommend changes to keep you on track to recovery.
Now, recovery can take a long time. You might have to treat diastasis recti for months to a year before you make any significant progress. It’s best to stick it out with the help of a physical therapist rather than make assumptions on your own when things don’t seem to be working.
Diastasis recti is a common side effect of pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you should take it lying down. Although restored naturally in many cases, when prolonged, it can cause widespread changes to the body, from postural defects to breathing difficulties, increased risk of abdominal organ illness, etc.
It’s always best to do something about diastasis recti abdominis early before and after pregnancy. In the early stages of your pregnancy, some pelvic floor exercises can help you stop diastasis recti dead in its tracks. But make sure to exercise under the close supervision of a qualified physical therapist.
Ideally, your physical therapist should be a board-certified specialist who’s well-versed with pelvic floor issues, postpartum care, and women’s health physical therapy.
Wondering where to get the best diastasis recti physical therapy near you? At Fit Club NY, we have a friendly team of physical therapists who can help craft safe, hands-on treatment plans for your diastasis rectus abdominis. We’ll carefully examine all the relevant factors affecting your diastasis recti abdominis and create a tailored program to help you manage your symptoms and regain your normal muscle functions.
We focus on building strength, stamina, and a working knowledge of diastasis recti abdominis exercises to help our patients get back to their normal daily lives as quickly as possible.
Book your consultation with us today and let’s examine and provide the best recommendations to heal your diastasis recti.