What Does Diastasis Recti Look Like?

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Diastasis Recti is one symptom of core and pelvic floor dysfunction. It is the stretching or separation of the rectus abdominis (6 pack) muscles due to the thinning of the linea alba (midline connective tissue). This separation can be isolated to the area above the belly button, centered around the belly button, or below the belly button. In some cases, the separation runs the entire length of the core.

Diastasis Recti Symptoms

A minor separation (1-2 finger widths) is not a significant injury. Still, I advise considering a core-focused rehab program to prevent the gap from widening. Many people report diastasis recti symptoms even with a narrow gap, which can inhibit optimal core function.

You may be wondering yourself, what does diastasis recti look like in more severe cases? In more severe cases, the separation can measure as wide as 5-10 fingers. This effect is much more noticeable and can be seen as a bulge of the abdomen. Diastasis recti is also measured by depth, someone could potentially have a 10-finger width separation but it’s relatively shallow and less symptomatic than someone with a narrow gap that is deeper.

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Diastasis Recti Can Look Like:

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between diastasis recti, bloating, and abdominal fat; however, all three can have similar appearances and be exacerbated by Diastasis Recti. Sometimes, Diastasis Recti can cause the skin to stretch too, so a lot of stretched skin–different from stretch marks–can indicate one.

Let’s look at the difference between stretched skin and stretch marks.

This image is of stretched skin:

This is what stretched skin looks like on a postnatal woman.

And these are stretch marks:

However, neither image in isolation tells me whether the person has a diastasis recti.

How Can I Tell if I Have Diastasis Recti?

If you think you have a Diastasis Recti, you can perform a Diastasis Recti Test at home or have a physical therapist assess you. 

A Self-Assessment Can Be Performed as Follows: 

  1. Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place one hand on the midline of your core with your fingers pointing straight down on your abs.
  3. Place one hand behind your head and neck for support. Slowly lift your head and add minimal pressure to your fingers placed on your core. With no diastasis recti, there is the feeling of a toned wall as you lift your head up. If you feel a gap or your fingers sink into your core, you likely have diastasis recti. In very obvious cases, you can feel the sides of your core muscles in between that gap on the left and right sides.
  4. Repeat the process for the areas just above your belly button and below your belly button to determine whether or not the diastasis recti is isolated or in your core as a whole. 

Diastasis Recti Does Not Arise Solely From Pregnancy!

Pregnancy is only one underlying cause of Diastasis Recti. Learn more about Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy here.

Men can have Diastasis Recti, and babies are born with it!  At birth, all babies will have some degree of separation and in most cases, it will close in the first few weeks. For some, it can take longer to close, if you’re at all concerned speak to your pediatrician. 

What does diastasis recti look like in men? In men, Diastasis Recti symptoms can be similar. Though, appearance can be somewhat different: a flared rib cage or bulging belly may suggest a lack of core function or a possible diastasis. Constipation, low back pain, and difficulty with common exercises are also indicators that there’s a core function problem. Learn more about Diastasis Recti in Men here.

Joseph-Pilates-arrow

An example of a man with a diastasis is Joseph Pilates. Yes, THAT Pilates.

We really need to separate looks from function when addressing diastasis recti. A DR can change both how we look and function, but it might also not change how we look and might only change function. When we fall prey to the falsehood that flat=functional, we seek out a flat belly at the expense of function. So, when you ask, “what does diastasis recti look like?” The answer is “it varies.”

The biggest myth about core function and bodily appearance is that a flat belly means a functional belly. Truth is, it’s not always clear by just looking at someone whether or not they have a diastasis recti. 

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What Are the Risk Factors for Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti symptoms are exacerbated by an unnatural amount of pressure within the abdomen.

Excess intra abdominal pressure can be due to many factors including:

These are some of the known risk factors that can lead to Diastasis Recti developing or delay healing. We can’t always pinpoint “why”, but it’s still important to look at all factors that could be impacting someone’s ability to heal.

Can Diastasis Recti be Healed?

Just as Diastasis Recti symptoms look different, healing can also look different for each person and the time it takes to heal depends on the individual and the severity of the injury. Connective tissue is slow to heal, but healing is possible. For some people, it can take years to properly heal and restore full function. Getting back to doing all the things you love can happen, it just takes time and consistency.  

I have found that what best helps most of my clients with diastasis recti are:

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Got Questions ?

Does Diastasis Recti heal on its own?
Diastasis Recti abdominis is a common and natural effect of pregnancy. When the connective tissue thins to allow the abdominal wall muscles to separate, creating space for the growing baby, in most cases, this will return to normal in the weeks and months postpartum. It doesn’t happen naturally for some women, and they may need physical therapy if they don’t heal within 6 weeks to 3 months following delivery. Surgery is usually only considered in extreme cases if the gap does not close within a year of physical therapy.
What exercises should be avoided with Diastasis Recti?
A great way to prevent exacerbating Diastasis Recti is to avoid exercises that increase intra-abdominal pressure, such as crunches, planks, twists, or heavy lifting. You don’t want to do anything that causes a visible doming of the abdomen.
Can you fix Diastasis Recti without surgery?
Yes! Many women and men have completed my program and seen their Diastasis Recti close considerably, if not all the way. It is possible to heal a diastasis without surgery.
Can physical therapy fix Diastasis Recti?
Connective tissue is slow to heal. Many men and women can use simple core-strengthening techniques to heal their Diastasis Recti. People working with a rehab program should only consider surgery if they have been working with a rehabilitation program or with a physical therapist to restore function for a minimum of 1 year. Surgery can fail or create other issues if one doesn’t address the underlying problem of excess intra-abdominal pressure.   If the Diastasis Recti persists after one year of therapy, it would be appropriate to consult a surgeon.
What does Diastasis Recti look like?
The most common symptom of Diastasis Recti is a bulge in the center of the abdomen, especially when you strain or contract your abdominal muscles. 
Is a Two Finger Gap Diastasis Recti?
Medically speaking, a separation of 2 finger widths or more is considered Diastasis Recti.
What problems can Diastasis Recti cause?
Diastasis Recti can lead to side effects like poor posture, low back pain, constipation and urine leaking. It may also cause difficulty with breathing or movement.
Does belly binding help Diastasis Recti?
Belly binding is thought to help close the Diastasis Recti gap by wrapping a binder around your torso. However, wearing a splint or binder won’t strengthen or tighten the muscles – but it might provide support for lower back pain and other issues related to pregnancy (or postpartum) and be an appropriate tool in the later stages of pregnancy and early weeks postpartum.
Is running OK with Diastasis Recti?
Women often ask me if they should run with Diastasis Recti. They’re hoping for a definitive answer, but in my professional opinion, the response is not so simple. If you are well past the eight weeks postpartum, adding in low intensity exercises can be a great way to regain strength. However, this may look different for each person.
Is it belly fat or Diastasis Recti?
If you feel a gap or softness with muscles on either side, you may have Diastasis Recti. If you can feel the tensed muscles underneath your belly, you’re probably just dealing with some abdominal fat. The good news is that most cases of Diastasis Recti are temporary (and abdominal fat can be temporary too!).
Does drinking water help Diastasis Recti?
Water is essential for optimal health. To give yourself the best chance at healing, you need to get into good habits and maintain hydration – and that means hydrating with water! It doesn’t all have to be plain water; diluted juices or herbal teas are also encouraged for increased hydration levels.
Is Diastasis Recti a hernia?
Diastasis Recti, is not a Hernia. Clinically, a Diastasis can look like an Inguinal or Umbilical Hernia when flexing your abdomen; you may notice a bulge near the belly button.
Why does my stomach dip in the middle?
Diastasis Recti is a condition that develops when too much pressure is put on the abdominal muscles. This can cause the connective tissue between the rectus abdominis muscles to thin and create a bulge or a dip in the center of the abdomen. Depending on the activity and core engagement strategy, you may present with a bulge or a dip.
Can Diastasis Recti cause digestive issues?
Digestion issues are a common complaint among those that have Diastasis Recti. Speak to a registered dietician or nutritionist if this is an issue for you.