Diastasis Recti – What Is It and How To Correct It
Diastasis Recti is also known as abdominal separation and is most common in postpartum women, this is because of the strain on your linea alba during pregnancy. Linea Alba probably isn’t a word that crops up in day to day conversation so I’ll explain what it is using the hunky figure of Ryan Gosling! You see his six pack in the picture below – that’s his rectus abdominus muscle (‘the pack’). The vertical line separating the left and right sides of ‘the pack’ is called the linea alba – a band of connective tissue that joins the two sides. It extends from the tip of the breast bone, all the way to the pubic bone. Unlike, Mr. Reynolds’ linea alba, your linea alba suffers a tremendous amount of stress with pregnancy and can become separated. Some women have such a small split, they can go through life not even knowing it has happened to them. Others, can end up with a split going from the xiphoid process (bottom of your sternum) to the belly button.
So, how do you know if you have split your abdominal muscles? Start by laying on your back with your knees bent. Place four fingers of one hand above your belly button and the other hand below your belly button. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor and feel to see if there is a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle. Is there a gap or bulge? Can you fit two, three or four fingers into this separation? If you can then this shows you have diastasis recti. As a qualified Buggyfit Instructor this is something I can help you with.
So what now? It may seem like it is impossible to correct this split and at times, you will get discouraged. This is natural with any kind of rehabilitation. It’s important to remember though that before you go ahead and blitz that belly that certain exercises should be avoided. These exercises include crunches (this will force the muscles out to the side and train the muscles incorrectly), sit ups, anything that jack-knifes the body (v-sit, straight leg lifts), getting straight up from a laying position (turn onto your side first and push from there), lifting/carrying heavy objects and anything that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out.
With a comprehensive list of exercises NOT to do, what’s left to do? Well firstly don’t lose heart, there’s a whole heap of things you can do – not just including exercise. Let’s remember that healing nutrition and avoiding highly processed foods, excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol (sorry ladies) can help. Adequate sleep and low stress levels will also aid in your battle against the mummy tummy (easier said than done I know!)
But in terms of exercises we want to engage the deep muscles of the transversus abdominus and the pelvic floor. Functional movement patterns of pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging and rotating (with some exceptions!) whilst using the deep core muscles will effectively build the internal strength that most of us are looking for.
Other useful exercises include:
Table Top Single Leg Lowers – just be sure to hold your belly button in to your spine.
Leg Slides – begin with feet on floor, then work up to lifting them gently off the floor
Side Plank with or without raises
With all of the above mentioned exercises, it is EXTREMELEY important that you are constantly awae of you abdominal wall and you make sure that you are pulling your belly button up and back into your spine. This will ensure that you are actively engaging your Transverse Abdominal muscles and that you are on your way to a speedy rehab.
There is still some debate as to whether the full plank is safe to do with Diastis Recti or not. Research tends to suggest that as long as it is being done properly, then it is safe to do. My problem with the plank is that it puts excessive pressure on your abdominal region and if you do have a severe abdominal separation then there is a chance of the inner muscles protruding through whilst in the plank position. If you are going to do plank then you should make sure you properly support your stomach and really think about pulling your belly button up into your spine. This ensures that you are engaging the Transverse Abdominis. When dealing with Diastasis Recti, don’t be afraid to ask your post natal trainer for help and pointers in ensuring you are doing any exercises correctly. Never feel forced into doing an exercise you are not comfortable with – alternatives are always available – and some exercises can do more harm than good!
So please think twice before tackling the ‘mummy tummy with old school ab exercises. Get some great advice from a qualified post-natal expert. If you have any queries – don’t hesitate to contact me.