What is it?
Diastasis Recti is often overlooked in the fitness industry and happens when the linea alba, the strip of connective tissue between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle, becomes stretched and lax. It happens most often in women during pregnancy, as the growing fetus pushes against the abdominal wall, forcing the linea alba to widen in response. Despite the fact that women are naturally more prone to getting Diastasis Recti due to their biology, men are also susceptible to this condition. Diastasis Recti is commonly seen in men with ongoing Functional Core Weakness and muscle imbalance, and is often described as a rugby ball-shaped bulge down the midline of the tummy, especially visible when performing crunch-like movements or coughing, and gets worse by doing traditional abdominal exercises. Typical compensation patterns in men are holding your breath, tensing when straining, bracing the muscles and recruiting upper and lower body muscles to stabilize the core. All of these strategies actually push out on the abdominal wall (even slightly) instead of drawing in and elongating the core. Over time, this habitual outward pressure makes the connective tissue of the abdominal wall (the linea alba) stretch, causing that midline separation known as Diastasis Recti.
Pain with diastasis recti comes from a lack of stability and can take the form of pelvic pain, abdominal pain, or back pain.
The core is the entire trunk or center and includes the lower back, pelvic floor, all abdominal muscles, glutes and hips. If that central vital muscle system is compromised, ergo, not as functional or strong as we want it to be, then another body part has to compensate for that.
How to check for Diastasis Recti and what approach should be taken.
Even though the internet is full of self assessment protocols to determine if you do or don’t have diastasis recti, our advice is that you seek out professional help with a certified specialist. Based on the professional’s diagnosis, you can then decide which approach to take.
Should the specialist decide that the person is not a surgery candidate, which is often the case and can be corrected with functional core exercises, the approach we recommend based on research available is to restore the ability to connect with your deep muscles of the core correctly, which is vital to restoring function and strength. A lot of Therapists and Personal Trainers found their approach on closing the gap, but the gap isn’t the problem – the lack of function is. What this means is that they could make the gap come together, by contracting other intrinsic core muscles, for example the obliques, but transverse abdominis muscle, the one necessary for true trunk stability, is not being recruited at all. This results in a temporarily narrower gap, but still, no tension (stability) restored in the midline, which leads us to conclude that closing a Diastasis Recti may not be the answer to our problem.
This in turn suggests that without core stability from recruitment of the deep core muscles – transverse abdominis and co-activation of the pelvic floor – a person is no more able to control joint movement or load bearing than before regardless of how big is the gap.
How Do You Fix It?
A properly custom tailored exercise program can help you strengthen the core, retrain breathing patterns, reconnect to your body, close the separation, flatten your belly, relieve back pain and other symptoms, as well as retrain your body mechanics, posture, and alignment for long-term success, while minimising movements which make it worse.
Some of the things that we should avoid are crunches, sit-ups, front-loaded exercises (bird dogs, front planks, etc.), and any exercise where the trainee is forward flexed and can’t create enough tension to hold the belly in (e.g. conventional deadlifts). That means no belly bulging and no bearing down.
Should you need help with addressing this issue feel free to contact our team at Reflex Fitness. Our work will be aimed at helping you regain function and neuromuscular control of your CORE muscles, while helping you relearn how to use them correctly in all aspects of your everyday life.