One of the biggest issues with diastasis recti is that the appearance of it differs from person to person. Quite often a diastasis recti goes unnoticed, without painful symptoms, or even worse, is seen as a personal flaw, especially with women postpartum.

Once you’re postpartum, your always postpartum. Your body will never be the same as it was before you gave birth. Your skin and abdominals have stretched to accommodate another human (or more). The biggest myth with core function and bodily appearance is that a flat belly means a functional belly. This means that it is not always clear by just looking at someone to determine whether or not they have a diastasis recti.

Diastasis Recti Symptoms

Rectus abdominis separation can create a host of core related issues: weakened pelvic diaphragm, pelvic floor, lumbar spine pain, and stomach pain. 

  • Abdominal bloating or a distended abdomen is a common sign of Diastasis recti. 
  • Rectus Abdominis separation
  • Quadratus Lumborum pain
  • Urinary or Fecal Incontinence
  • Invagination of the linea alba
  • Lack of core strength and function

What is Diastasis Recti?

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Diastasis recti is the stretching or separation of the rectus abdominis (6 pack) muscles caused by the thinning of the linea alba (midline connective tissue). Diastasis recti separation leaves your abdominal organs unsupported, and if severe, can expose your digestive organs creating a stomach bulge.

This separation can range from being isolated above the belly button, within the belly button, and below the belly button sitting above the pubic bone. In some cases, the separation encompasses the entire mid section of the core.

Why Does My Stomach Bulge in the Middle?

A stomach bulge in the middle of your stomach can be a sign of a diastasis recti. Rectus abdominis separation can lead to a stomach bulge (aka stomach pooch), pelvic floor issues, unnatural posture, and stomach and back pain. The symptoms of diastasis recti include but are not limited to:

  • Abdominal Bulge
  • Abdominal Gaping
  • Lower Back Pain
  • Sensation of Bloatedness without Bloat
  • Incontinence
  • Poor Posture
  • Constipation & Bloat
  • Doming or invagination of the linea alba when performing crunches or other traditional ab exercises
  • Difficulty with everyday activities due to a lack of core function

Unless you have a low body fat percentage or have an overly toned core with a visible 6-pack, it is very hard to diagnose a diastasis recti on appearance alone. The linea alba lies beneath the fat layer of your abdomen, so it cannot be seen. Many people have a diastasis recti for years before learning they have it.  

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Does Coning Mean You Have a Diastasis Recti?

Coning of the abdominal region can be a sign of various things. During your pregnancy, coning can be a sign of overexertion of the core muscles leading to a wider separation of the rectus abdominis muscles and a stretched linea alba. This can extend into the postpartum period, which is an indication of diastasis recti. If you are experiencing coning, it is best to avoid any exercises that may be addinging additional pressure to your abdomen.

Learn more about diastasis recti during pregnancy.

What Does Mild Diastasis Recti Look Like?

The symptoms of mild diastasis recti are not always noticeable. In fact, many people who have diastasis recti do not know they have it! However there are some symptoms that tend to indicate the presence of a diastasis recti.

Abdominal Bulge

An abdominal bulge is not always an indication of a diastasis recti, yet, it can be a symptom.

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This bulge, or stomach “pooch,” occurs when the abdominal organs become unsupported by the rectus abdominis muscles. This can appear as a cone shape or ridge above and within the area located close to the belly button. However, depending on where the diastasis recti has become isolated, the bulge can range from above the belly button, on the belly button (causing the belly button to flatten), or below the belly button just above the pubic bone.

Rectus Abdominis Separation

This is the most noticeable and common symptom of diastasis recti (whether you have significant body fat or no body fat at all). A minor separation (one of 1-2 finger widths) is not a significant injury, but I advised considering rehab or core building exercises to prevent the gap from widening. 

In more severe cases, the separation can be that of 5-10 finger widths. This effect is much more noticeable and can be seen as a crevice or significant gap within the abdominal core. Diastasis recti is also measured by shallowness or deepness. Someone could potentially have a 10 finger width separation but it’s shallow. In this case, exercise and safe core strengthening routines can help restore the core to its natural state.

Is a 1 Finger Gap Diastasis Recti?

Although considered a minor ab separation, a 1 finger gap would be considered a minor diastasis separation. Typically a gap like this would be considered ok. A minor gap does not run the risk of some of the severe or painful symptoms that rectus abdominis separation could cause. However, if a minor gap is present and causing any issues, it would be best to be assessed by a PT.

Is a 2 Finger Gap Diastasis Recti?

Again, like a 1 finger gap, a 2 finger gap is considered a minor diastasis recti. If your gap is around 2 finger widths, you may want to go ahead and consider exercise or physical therapy treatment to help prevent the gap from widening. A strong, functional core is the most important aspect in preventing the separation from growing worse and to heal any damage that could be present.

Diastasis Recti Testing

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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. If you need support for your head, place your other hand under 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.

As mentioned before, a gap that is only one or two finger widths wide might not be a big concern, unless it is deep –  but caution is recommended. However, if you discover that you have a gap ranging from 2.7 cms or larger (2.5 fingers or larger) you should consult a PT or OT.

Are you suffering from a DR and unsure of where to go from here?

In this article, you can learn about effective exercises for healing a DR

Are you suffering from a DR and unsure of where to go from here?

In this article, you can learn about effective exercises for healing a DR

How Diastasis Recti Develops

There are many ways in which you may experience an abdominal wall injury like diastasis recti. Yet, a diastasis recti does not solely arise from pregnancy, like many people believe. Many athletes, body builders, active exercisers, and even inactive people can develop diastasis recti.

Many of the symptoms are the same in men and women with a diastasis, but how they appear can be somewhat different.

Develops

The development of diastasis recti is most commonly associated with women postpartum. However, men and children can also develop diastasis recti if there are underlying core issues such as:

– Weakened Core Muscles

– Core Injury

– Unusual Abdominal Pressure

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Diastasis recti occurs due to an unnatural amount of pressure within the abdominal wall and core muscles. This can occur due to injury, improper breathing patterns, core tension, imbalance of pressure within the abdomen, and even through over toned muscles (oblique dominance).

Risk Factors for Diastasis

The risk of developing a diastasis recti varies with each individual. However, I have noticed some similarities with how it can develop:

  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Frequent or rapid changes in weight
  • Weightlifting
  • Certain core exercises that induce a lot of core pressure
  • Underlying Abdominal Illnesses (i.e. stomach cancer, or cirrhosis)
  • Obesity

The main issue at hand concerning a diastasis recti is determining what factors in your daily life could be weakening your core and correcting them. Although there are some risk factors that can lead to a diastasis recti developing, oftentimes it’s uncertain.

Healing

Healing looks different for each person and the time it takes to heal depends on the severity of the injury to the linea alba and connective tissues. Knowing it takes a long time should give you hope! For some people it can take years to properly heal and to restore full function. Getting back to doing all the things you love can happen. Healing just takes time. 

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

  • A program, like my Restore Your Core program, which aids in learning proper core loading strategies and encourages a holistic treatment method to healing and getting stronger.
  • Diet modification. I am not a dietician and don’t make recommendations, but digestion can be affected by diastasis recti. Many clients have found that intermittent fasting, no sugar, and no gluten has helped them. Consult your dietician if bloating and constipation are an issue for you.
  • Add more load. Heavier weights and harder moves to strengthen your core further.
  • Myofascial release with an expert can resolve unhealthy patterns like oblique dominance or releasing scar tissue that is inhibiting function.
  • Add cardio once your core system is more optimized.
  • Changing your mindset about outcomes and expectations without fearing movement. 

To learn more about diastasis recti, consider checking out my Restore Your Core Program.

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