What is Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)?
The group of muscles in the abdomen, and also the pelvic floor are sometimes referred to as our ‘core muscles’. The outermost layer of this group of muscles that runs down the centre of the abdomen is the rectus abdominus. This is joined in the centre by connective tissue, the linea alba .
Sometimes when the abdomen is under significant pressure, for example during pregnancy, the connective tissue stretches and causes the two halves of this muscle separate in the middle.
This is known as a Diastasis Recti- separation of the rectus abdominus muscle into right and left halves.
Why does abdominal separation matter?
Diastasis Recti can often spontaneously resolve after childbirth with no further complications. It is important to remember that it isn’t a serious condition in a medical sense in that it doesn’t have an associated mortality.
However, if the separation is significant it may cause some symptoms.
My Experience of Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)
This was what I experienced in the few days after giving birth:
- Difficulty sitting up from a reclined position
- Discomfort coughing or sneezing – a sensation as if my insides were falling out
- Pelvic floor weakness (and associated uterine prolapse)
- Difficulty lifting anything (including my baby)
How to check if you have abdominal separation:
To check out what was happening with my tummy I used the following method to check for Diastasis Recti:
1. Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet placed on the floor
2. Place a couple of fingers under the ribcage in the centre of the abdomen
3. Gently curl the head off the floor and feel if there is a gap beneath the fingers – measure how many finger breadths you can fit in the gap.
4. Check again positioning the fingers over the belly button, and then again around 2 inches below the belly button.
Usually the gap is widest in the middle of the tummy around the belly button. A gap of more than 2 finger breadths is considered an abdominal separation (diastasis recti).
If you find a significant gap it is advisable to get specialist advice before starting an exercise regime. If you are experiencing significant symptoms you may benefit from physiotherapy input.
When I performed this test a few days after birth I could fit a whole hand between the gap – a five finger breadths Diastasis Recti.
The conclusion of my story
I was fortunate to be referred quickly to a fantastic NHS physiotherapist. I wore an abdominal support for several weeks and had physiotherapy input for 3 months.
My Diastasis Recti has now (10 months post-partum) narrowed to 2 finger breadths at its worst point and has completely closed at one end. I no longer experience any physical symptoms. I do have to be careful performing certain abdominal exercises not to cause undue stress or ‘doming’ of my abdomen. If I neglect my abdominal exercises I do have significant worsening of the cosmetic appearance of my tummy – it can bulge back to looking around 5 months pregnant.
Fortuantely as my Diastasis Recti improved so did my pelvic floor symptoms. By the time I attended for my 6 week post-partum check my prolapse had fully resolved. It has been a slow journey returning to my previous level of fitness but I am now confidently able to run for an hour or so without symptoms of pelvic floor weakness. I have taken part in my first timed 5k run recently.
I hope writing this little overview about my experiences of significant Diastasis Recti and associated uterine prolapse might be helpful for other women experiencing similar symptoms.
However, the post above represents my personal experience only. I am currently reviewing evidence in the form of research trials about post-partum Diastasis Recti. I will be posting again soon.
If you are keen to read more just now here are a couple of helpful general resources.