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What is Diastasis Recti?
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:
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:
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Place one hand on the midline of your core with your fingers pointing straight down on your abs.
- 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.
- 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.
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: