Diastasis, what is it and do you have one?
If you google the word ‘Diastasis’ Wikipedia will describe it as ‘an abdominal separation that is commonly defined as a gap of roughly 2.7 cm or greater between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle’ (your six pack – yes we do all have one. Whether we see it depends on how defined it is and if its hiding behind a layer of abdominal fat). This condition has no associated morbidity or mortality.
It is a common occurrence for a woman during pregnancy and post birth due to the growing uterus stretching the abdominal wall and separating the borders of the recti muscles to accommodate the growing baby. This is completely normal with approximately 60% of women experiencing it. However, it is not just expectant mums that can experience a diastasis. Ladies who have not given birth; men; and small children can also have a diastasis. Why?
If an individual has been lifting heavy weights incorrectly or has been performing abdominal exercises in an unsafe way, after a while the pressure placed through the abdomen can become too much and the muscle separates. If you suffer from constipation or bloating this can also cause pressure on the abdominal wall and therefore a separation. Your posture can also be a factor.
For new-born babies, a diastasis is present due to their abdominal muscles not being fully developed and connected. The condition usually corrects itself with time.
How to tell if you have a diastasis?
Aside from performing a physical assessment on the abdominals, there are some signs and symptoms that could indicate the presence of one.
- A pooch or bulge in the centre line of your abdomen especially when you strain/contract the muscle.
- Lower back pain
- You look in the mirror and see a dip down the middle of your ab muscles.
You can check your own abdominals to see whether you have a diastasis although it is always recommended that a professional do this along with other useful assessments to ascertain core functionality. Follow the instructions below:
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feel flat on the floor.
- Gently raise your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down towards the abdominal wall.
- Using your fingers, gently press above and below your belly button and then along the midline of the rectus abdominis muscle and see if your fingers drop into a gap.
- If you feel a 1-2 finger gap you have a mild diastasis. It’s important to feel for tension along this line also, as a firmer tension confirms the muscles are in a reasonable position to withstand pressure. A weak, soft midline will indicate that the muscles are weak and therefore not as able to maintain pressure through the core, hence why the lower back is placed under strain and you get pain.
If you have found a gap it’s wise to have this confirmed by a professional who can perform further checks and ascertain core functionality.
IMPORTANT – you can have a small diastasis and the core be able to do its job well!
Can it be fixed?
The answer is yes!
If a diastasis is considered to be of a particular width or the edges of the muscle are not strong enough, where the abdominal pressure cannot be managed, then work can and needs to be done to help.
For some women, diastasis recti may correct itself after delivery as the abdominal muscles regain their strength. However, if you’re still experiencing symptoms or separation eight weeks post birth then certain exercises may help. After an assessment, a women’s health physiotherapist, postnatal fitness specialist or Holistic Core Restore® coach can provide you with specific exercises that you can perform at home or at work to help strengthen those muscles and help bring the 2 edges of the rectus abdominis muscle closer together.
As highlighted above the core muscles can still work sufficiently even if there is a small diastasis, so the focus will NOT be on getting the abdominal wall to join completely but to just get it to a position where it is considered the pressure can be managed. This will be constantly monitored by your physio or core specialist.
The key thing here is how well the person is able to manage any intra-abdominal pressure when lifting or moving. If that individual holds their breath when lifting, or lifts too heavy, or lifts incorrectly or performs exercises that their bodies are just not able to support then pressure in the core unit will be increased and therefore place unnecessary load either through the abdominal wall causing an increased diastasis or worse a hernia, or the pressure moves down into the pelvis and causes a prolapse through the pelvic floor muscles. Again, your specialist will coach you through the correct way to breath when you lift and how to activate the core and pelvic floor when you do so. They will also look out for other muscles that may fire instead of the ones that should be. This imbalance can also slow down the recovery of a diastasis.
How Bumps Lumps and Star Jumps can help you.
Bumps Lumps and Star Jumps offers specific programmes to help with healing a diastasis. Prior to any exercise programme, a complete and through assessment is completed which helps ascertain EXACTLY where that lady is with her pelvic floor and core function. From there a blend of massage therapy, releases for stuck tissue and core specific techniques are used to help start the process. Once the abdominals begin to respond then the exercises are progressed further and are designed around the typical movement patterns we use in day to day life getting us ‘Fit for Function.’
For further details click here.