Why do I still look pregnant even though I had my baby 8 months ago?
Why do I have a loaf of bread pushing thru my abs as I do crunches?
Could it be that diastasis recti thing?
So what is it? Diastasis = Separation.
With diastasis recti, the connective tissue in the midline is stretched thin, allowing the outer abdominal muscles, the recti or “six pack” muscles, to separate. This separation and weak connective tissue fail to protect the organs or support the back. If the separation is large enough, the organs will protrude, creating that bulge in the belly. One is more prone to hernias with a diastasis! I developed an umbilical hernia after my second pregnancy.
A diastasis can be caused by the continuous forward forceful pressure on the weak part (belly button) of the connective tissue of the rectus abdominis. This intra-abdominal pressure can be from a growing uterus, improper lifting, or improper breathing — especially upon exertion. It can also be due to over-toned muscles, such as oblique dominance. I was notorious for holding my breath during exertion and stress! A diastasis can occur only above the belly button, or just below the belly button, or all the way from your sternum to your pubic bone, like mine was.
How is it diagnosed and measured?
I self-diagnosed, and since diastasis recti is measured by finger width, I thought mine was only two fingers, which is the minimum for diastasis recti. Not bad — I’m fine, I thought. But I went to an RN/personal trainer/diastasis recti specialist, and she assessed me at four fingers at my belly button. It also ran all the way up to my sternum and down to my pubic bone. I was not diagnosing myself correctly.
If you want to attempt a self-check before being seen by a professional, take a look at this helpful video by Dr. Sarah Duvall. Or reach out to me and I can walk consult you.
How can I check if I have one?
A diastasis is measured in fingers because that's the easiest way for you to tell exactly how far your muscles have separated. Given that everyone's fingers are different sizes, this is not a perfect form of measurement; but the important factor is that you can easily check and measure a diastasis on your own.
To determine the severity of your diastasis you need to know two things:
1. The distance between the two muscles. The wider the diastasis the longer it takes to close it.
2. The condition of the connective tissue. The further your fingers go into your belly, the weaker the connective tissue. The weaker the connective tissue the longer it takes to heal. As the connective tissue becomes shallower, the muscles come together.
STEPS to check:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your head on the floor.
Place your hand on your stomach with the palm of your hand facing your face. Be sure your hand is vertically pressing into your abdomen.
Press your middle three fingers into your belly button.
Relax your abdominal muscles and gently lift your head, drawing your chin towards your chest. If you are holding your abdominal muscles in as you check, it will give you a false reading as this will make the diastasis appear smaller. The muscles will also get closer together the higher you lift your head. Be sure to start with a relaxed abdomen.
If you have a diastasis, you will be able to feel the rectus abdominis tightening up on either side of your fingers. If you cannot feel this muscular contraction, you may need to place more fingers in the gap between the muscles so you can measure it correctly. You might also see a football-shaped ridge coming up between the muscles. In some cases, this gap may be 10+ fingers wide. You may need to lift and lower your head a few times in order to feel the muscles engage and get a reading.
You also want to determine the condition of the connective tissue. The deeper your fingers will go towards your spine, the weaker the connective tissue. If you feel a pulsing while you are checking, this is a sign of very weak connective tissue.
If, when you raise your head, you simply feel your stomach muscles tighten underneath your fingertips without a gap underneath, then you do not have a diastasis.
How can someone heal from diastasis recti?
If you find you have a diastasis, contact your OB/PT — especially if you have symptoms. Meanwhile, back off to easier levels of any exercise that is giving you symptoms. Try to recognize what movement makes your symptoms worse, and decrease the stress and the load on the body. Inform any instructor that you have a diastasis in group exercise and ask them to show you modifications. Keep a list of what you were doing and when you notice your symptoms and when they get worse. Educate yourself. Seek help with your OB or contact me.
I used my body as a case study. After meeting with many experts, learning, studying, and getting more specialized certifications, I healed my own diastasis recti with exercise. Healing with exercise is not the case for all, and sometimes, depending upon the severity of the diastasis, surgery can be required. However, surgery won’t fix incorrect movement patterns.
Be mindful of your daily movements, whether you’re exercising or not. Anything that causes exertion can be a trigger — like lifting, twisting, sitting, standing, having a bowel movement, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
Learn effective strengthening exercises that will help bring the separated muscles closer together and help heal the connective tissue. And address movement patterns and muscle imbalances. Look at ALL of your movement patterns, how you breathe, how you breathe with your movements, how you stand, and how you sit.
In addition, it is like any other injury — you will always have a weakness if you are not mindful of your breath, form, and movement — especially when you are tired (no sleep with little ones, work, life, etc.) and not as apt to be mindful of these things. I know, I made my hernia slightly worse by being too eager to push it!! I had to scale it back again and take it more mindful.
Closing a diastasis does NOT guarantee it will stay closed. (It is ongoing, like food shopping or dirty laundry!) But working to heal from diastasis recti is life-changing behavior! Imagine your life feeling confident knowing what you can and should not be doing with a diastasis and what you can do to heal it? Reach out, I am here for you.