I always try to educate ladies who come to see me, so they know what is going on in their bodies and know WHY they may be getting referred pain or tightness.
Diastasis Recti (DR) is just one of those misunderstood bodily functions that women come and see me about. So I am going to explain what exactly it is and why it is important to know the difference between a soft gap and a wider but maybe harder gap down the midline of the tummy.
Physiology of a Diastasis Recti
Ok, so have a look at this diagram showing the different variations of a DR:
This will hopefully give you an idea of what I am talking about. Many ladies come to me saying the have “Split Abs”. However, the abdominal muscles do not split.
The tendinous, fibrous band that runs down the middle of your tummy – from the sternum to the pubic bone is called the linea alba. The linea alba has stretched & stayed stretched so it looks like you have a gap vertically down your tummy. The linea alba is a connective band – the abdominals, all layers of abs, all attach to the linear alba, again with connective tissue.
When a woman has a baby, something in the tummy has to ‘give’ to let the bump grow. What give’s is the linear alba, it stretches. Sometimes men or women who do a lot of sit ups or abdominal exercises can put a lot of intra-abdominal pressure on the linea alba and it can get wider/stretch too. Generally though, DR is seen in women who have had babies and it has been really stretched, who tend to have the gap vertically down the middle of the tummy.
You can see from the diagram that there are different forms of a diastasis. Sometimes there is the wider gab above the umbilicus, sometimes all the way down, sometimes below the umbilicus, everyone is different.
Importance of tension in the diastasis recti
Ok, so if all the abs attach to this mid-line then its tension is important. When there is a wide gap, the fibrous band has lost tension and is very soft and ‘squidgy’ then the attachments to the abs means they are not very stable. So if a woman is trying to ‘add load’ in exercise but she hasn’t got abs that are going to support her, other stronger/more supportive muscles will kick in, like the back.
This can lead to overactive back muscles or hip flexors and cause pain.
If a woman has a very thin gap BUT the gap is very ‘squidgy’ & soft – again this can still mean the tummy is not being supported when exercising. In contrast – someone may have a wide gab BUT it has good tension, to the connections with the abs are stronger and hence more supported.
This is all very general, but it is just to give you an idea of WHY it is better to have more tension in the midline and how this is more important than the width of the midline gap.
How can you work on your diastasis
There are things you can try – but as I always say, you are all different and will all have different tensions in the DR. I would definitely book to see a women’s health physio – but make sure she is one who is a specialist in diastasis – some are better with the pelvic floor. I can always suggest some in Bristol/South West so always ask.
Otherwise I run a Holistic Core Restore® Diastasis programme on a 1:1 basis or if you aren’t in Bristol have a look at Burrell education and look for Holistic Core Restore coaches.
You can help it a bit by drinking plenty of water, eating lots of protein at every meal with vitamin C & E based foods (fruits/veggies) as the amino acids in protein with water can help the midline tissue – not always, but it is worth trying. Otherwise collagen powder or bone broth can help the tissue.
If you can try to AVOID sit up type moves then do. Try and roll to your side to get up from the bed and use your hands to help you get up. Similarly, avoid holding your breath when getting up or lifting/pushing/pulling something heavy. It is about trying to avoid pushing your tummy out hard.
You will need to focus on some deep diaphragmatic breath work, focussing on gentle movement in the diaphragm & tummy and then some gentle abs exercises which you then build up. However, this is where you are best getting advise as you may already be able to take load better.
Have a look at my blog on how to check if you have a diastasis.
Or just watch my video on how to check your tummy for a diastasis.
A great course is my Holistic Core Restore® Everywoman course which is designed to improve your core strength and pelvic floor, this popular programme covers nourishment, hydration and core strengthening exercises as well as the importance of rest and self care. It really is the best way to set you up for a lifetime of good pelvic health.