Although common in postpartum women, a separated rectus, also known as diastasis recti, can also occur in obese individuals and in children up to 2 years of age. This condition can trigger pelvic and back pain, and make it hard to stabilize the trunk. Although it can correct itself, targeted exercise can lend a helping hand. Always consult your doctor, and get a full release, before doing any postpartum exercises.
About Separated Rectus
The rectus abdominis is the muscle that's located at the front of your abdomen. It runs from your pubic bone to the bottom of your sternum and has a left and right side that are held together by fibrous connective tissue. Abdominal pressure, such as that caused by pregnancy, can widen, stretch and split the connective tissue, resulting in diastasis recti -- a separation between the left and right sides of the muscle. A doctor can assess the severity of the condition and approve exercises that can be done to reduce the gap and restore the function and strength of the abdominal wall.
Things to Consider
Abdominal exercises, such as leg lifts, crunches, and situps, aren't going to correct a separated rectus and might worsen the condition. To prevent this from happening, always consult your doctor before starting any exercises. Your emphasis should be on retraining your stabilizing muscles, including your pelvic floor muscles and transverse abdominis. These corset-like muscles can help tighten your midsection and reduce the gap in the rectus abdominis. After correcting the separation, you can incorporate a progressive abdominal-strengthening program.
Raise Your Head
The head raise is a deceptively easy looking exercise that can help correct a separated rectus. Start by lying face up on the floor with your head on a pillow, your knees bent and your feet flat. Wrap a towel around your waist, crossing it over your abs and grasping an end in each hand. As you raise your head to bring your chin to your chest, exhale and pull your belly button to your spine while lightly pulling outward on either ends of the towel. Imagine the gap in your rectus abdominis getting smaller. Hold the contraction for five minutes and then release it as you lower your head back down. Do this 10 times, three times a day.
Tilt Your Pelvis
Pelvic tilts effectively strengthen your stabilizing muscles. Start this exercise by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. After exhaling and engaging your transverse abdominis by pulling your belly button to your spine, engage your buttocks and roll your hips back. Imagine trying to eliminate the space between your back and the floor. Hold the contraction in your tummy for up to five seconds and then release it and return your hips to the starting point. Perform pelvic tilts up to 10 times, three times a day.
Lift Your Hips
The hip lift, sometimes also referred to as the bridge exercise, is also done while lying on the floor on your back, with your feet flat and knees bent. This exercise is the next step up from the pelvic tilt. It starts in a similar manner; you draw your navel to your spine and engage your glutes. Instead of staying on the floor, you raise your hips and back until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold the contraction for up to five seconds and then lower back down to the starting point. Repeat this motion 10 times, up to three times a day.