Diastasis recti, a condition that occurs when the connective tissue between the rectus abdominis is stretched too far, is prevalent in pregnant women due to their expanding bellies, reports Pub Med Health. There are ways to correct this, however, but if gone untreated, diastasis recti can lead to poor core stabilization, pelvic floor dysfunction and back or pelvic pain. Although diastasis recti may correct itself on its own, there are exercises that you can do to help repair your midsection.
Diagnosis & Precautions
You should wait three days after your labor to perform the check for diastasis recti. If you had a C-section, you should wait six weeks, or until your incision has healed. To check for the condition, lie on your back with your knees bent. Slowly lift your head and shoulders off the ground while you reach your fingertips to your knees. Maintain this position as you place one hand along the center of your rectus abdominis. You should feel a soft area between your abdominal muscles. Measure how many finger-widths can fit between your muscles. One finger-width is normal, but two or more confirms that you have diastasis recti. If you are unsure that you have diastasis recti, a doctor can perform a physical exam to confirm the condition. Do not begin any abdominal work if you have this condition. Exercises like situps, for example, can worsen and aggravate the separation, according to Airedale General Hospital's Women's Health Physiotherapy Team. Instead, you should begin to strengthen your transverse abdominis, the deepest layer of your abdominal muscles.
To correct diastasis recti, begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. Cross your hands at your waist, or use a towel to wrap around your midsection, and begin to guide your stomach muscles together. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, contract your pelvic floor while you raise only your head off of the ground. While you lift, continue to pull your muscles together to start lessening the gap. Perform 10 repetitions three times per day.
Once you have stabilized your midsection and closed the gap, it should then be safe to try post-natal exercise classes, such as a post-natal Pilates class to further strengthen your abdominal muscles. On your own, you should begin to strengthen your transverse abdominis, or TVA, and pelvic floor. An example exercise that can help strengthen both is called a heel slide with belly scoop. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your belly toward your spine to activate your TVA. Tilt your pelvis up away from the floor as you slide the heel of one foot forward until your leg is almost straight. Slide the heel back in and repeat on the other side. Continue drawing your belly in and tilting your pelvis up as you perform 10 repetitions on each side. Only once your TVA and pelvic floor have strengthened should you begin to strengthen your outer abdominal wall, including the obliques and rectus abdominis.
Exercising too aggressively while having diastasis recti can worsen the issue. If after four weeks the condition still persists, the function of your abdominal musculature can be altered. Take extra care as your abdominal muscles are returning to normal. Avoid twisting, lifting heavy items, doing heavy housework, and carrying things on one side. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist to determine next steps if the problem still persists as well as to determine when exercising will be appropriate.