by Amy Butler
Let's start with the name: Diastasis Recti. Yep, that's a mouthful of odd, ominous sounding words. Sometimes simply referred to as diastasis, this condition is misunderstood by many and completely unknown by others. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and treat disastasis recti - we just need a little knowledge to get us on our way!
Diastasis recti is defined as the separation of the rectus abdominus muscle (frequently called the "six pack" muscle, consisting of two parallel muscles divided into four segments technically forming an eight pack - but let's not split hairs), created by the stretching of the linea alba (the connective tissue that forms a sheath around the abdomen). This separation can be caused by several things. The growing uterus during pregnancy, being overweight, and improper abdominal training can all potentially result in this diastasis. If left untreated, this condition may cause back pain, incontinence, pelvic instability and more. Here's a simple self test to determine the presence of diastasis recti (when in doubt, consult a trained professional):
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Place your fingertips of one hand at your belly button and while your abdomen is relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
- Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the floor into a “crunch” position.
- Feel for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis and measure the number of fingers that fit into the gap. If two or more fingers fit in the gap, then you likely have diastasis recti. Test this again approximately 1-2 inches above and below your belly button to determine the length of the gap
Often, there is a telltale bulging or ridge in the center of the torso when someone with diastasis recti flexes the trunk with abdominal exertion, as in a "crunch." If you're a Pilates instructor (or any fitness/movement instructor) and you suspect your client has this condition, you can perform the above mentioned test with your client to be sure that the you're creating the most effective and safe health and fitness program for that individual.
So, let's talk about what to do (and not to do) if you have diastasis recti... It's all about proper, balanced abdominal strengthening. The last thing you want to do is a lot of rectus abdominus engagement and stretching, which can actually cause the diastasis to increase, so avoid exercises that involve a lot of flexion and extension of the torso. Focusing on strengthening your obliques and transversus abdominus (the deepest abdominal muscle that acts like a corset) can help bring the separated rectus abdominus back together. Exercises such as supine breathing with pelvic tilts, seated pelvic tilts and quadruped breathing are all good places to start.
Okay, now that we've said diastasis recti over a dozen times in this post, surely the name is becoming more familiar and easy, right? Women and men alike should know about diastasis recti - we all want strong, healthy, effective abdominals. So share this information with a friend and help spread the word!