While diastasis recti is most commonly associated with pregnant people, having a baby is not necessary to experience this condition. In fact, many men develop this abdominal issue and the variety of symptoms that can go along with it. By staying informed about the risk factors and doing certain diastasis recti exercises each day, it's possible for men with this issue to start feeling normal again.
Starting some easy-to-do core-strengthening exercises that target your abdominal muscles can help improve diastasis recti in men.
What’s Diastasis Recti?
The front portion of your abdomen is covered by a long, flat muscle called the rectus abdominis that's divided by a layer of cartilage called the linea alba. Diastasis recti occurs when the left and right portions of this muscle (also commonly referred to as the six-pack) begin to pull away from each other. While this condition is frequently confused with a ventral hernia, in which the internal structures of the stomach push through a tear in the abdominal muscle, diastasis recti involves only separation or thinning of the linea alba.
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Diastasis Recti in Men
While diastasis recti is certainly most frequently observed in women who are pregnant or who have recently had a child, men can also be afflicted. In particular, males with obesity are at a greater risk of diastasis recti, as the extra weight can place increased pressure on the abdominal muscles and lead to separation. In addition, prior abdominal surgeries or having a history of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may also cause the abs to weaken and lead to split stomach muscles in men.
What Symptoms Does It Cause?
The most common symptom associated with diastasis recti is a palpable lump along the midline of the abdomen. This bump may be worse when you contract your stomach muscles during everyday tasks like transitioning from lying down to sitting or lifting your leg up to put on a shoe. Typically, men experience abdominal wall separation in the upper portion of their stomach while women usually feel it below their bellybutton, closer to the uterus.
In addition, abdominal muscle separation can cause several other symptoms, including lower back or hip pain. It may also lead to poor posture, sexual pain or difficulties with bowel or bladder incontinence in less common cases.
Diastasis Recti Exercises
While each person's situation is unique, incorporating specific core-strengthening exercises into your day may help to resolve your diastasis recti symptoms. A 2015 study in the International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research found that abdominal bracing exercises were able to effectively reduce the muscle separation associated with this condition. There are several diastasis recti exercises that you can include in your workout routine.
Read more: Exercises for Separated Abdominal Muscles
Do Some Pelvic Clocks
This initial core exercise helps you engage the various muscles in your abdomen using the face of a clock as a visualization.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Imagine a clock on your stomach and squeeze your abdominal muscles as your pelvis rocks backward toward 12 o'clock. Then, arch your back and allow your pelvis to rock forward toward 6 o'clock. Continue to move clockwise along diagonals (1 o'clock to 7 o'clock, 2 o'clock to 8 o'clock, and so on) until you complete a full rotation. Try five to seven repetitions of the exercise, and do this twice daily.
Practice Plank Position
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach with your elbows beneath your chest and your forearms on the ground. Keeping your knees straight, lift your pelvis and stomach off the floor as you rise onto your toes and forearms. As you do this, keep your stomach muscles squeezed and be sure not to hold your breath. Hold the pose for 10 seconds before relaxing and try to complete two to three sets of 10 repetitions each day.
Add Kegel Exercises
HOW TO DO IT: While they can be performed in any position, Kegel exercises are easiest to do while lying down in a quiet environment. Without holding your breath, squeeze your deep pelvic muscles like you're trying to stop the flow of urine or avoid passing gas. Maintain this contraction for five to 10 seconds before relaxing, and attempt two to three sets of 10 repetitions at least three times daily. As this gets easier, you can progress to doing your Kegels while you move around throughout the day.
Try Quadruped Tilts
Quadruped pelvic tilts are another easy way to engage your stomach muscles and heal your diastasis recti.
HOW TO DO IT: Get onto your hands and knees. Begin by inhaling and squeezing your ab muscles as you draw your stomach in and flatten your back. Hold this position for a second or two before you exhale, and allow your back to sag and your stomach to drop toward the ground again. Repeat the exercise 10 times, and do two to three sets daily.
What About Bracing?
There are a number of corsets and braces available for sale that claim to decrease the separation between the portions of your rectus abdominis and to improve your overall pain. Unfortunately, these benefits may be overblown. According to guidelines published in the Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy in 2019, wearing abdominal braces to treat diastasis recti has yet to be supported by research and should not be recommended as a primary treatment for this condition.
Read more: Diastasis Recti Complications
Warnings and Precautions
While diastasis recti exercises may help improve mild cases of this condition, it's important to communicate with your doctor if your symptoms are not improving. Be sure to report worsening pain, incontinence of the bowel or bladder, or sexual dysfunction to your physician so your abdominal separation can be properly cared for.
- Mayo Clinic: Why Do Abdominal Muscles Sometimes Separate During Pregnancy?
- Surgical Endoscopy: The General Surgeon’s Perspective of Rectus Diastasis. A Systematic Review of Treatment Options
- Up to Date: Rectus Abdominis Diastasis
- Prisma Health: Is it a Hernia or Diastasis?
- American Physical Therapy Association: Physical Therapist's Guide to Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
- International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research: Abdominal Exercise With Bracing: A Therapeutic Efficacy in Reducing Diastasis Recti Among Postpartal Females
- Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation: The Effects of a 6 Week Dynamic Core Stability Plank Exercise Program Compared to a Traditional Supine Core Stability Strengthening Program on Diastasis Recti Abdominis Closure, Pain, Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) and Pelvic Floor Disability Index Scores (PFDI)
- Mayo Clinic: Kegel Exercises for Men: Understand the Benefits
- U.S. News & World Report: 4 Exercises to Heal Diastasis Recti
- Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy: Establishing Expert-Based Recommendations for the Conservative Management of Pregnancy-Related Diastasis Rectus Abdominis