What Is Separation Of The Abdominals?

What Is It?

Diastasis Recti (or otherwise known as separation of the abdominals) is the widening of the gap between the 2 sections of the Rectus Abdominis (or 6 pack) abdominal muscle.

Let’s think about our core muscles for a second as the ‘6 pack’ view. The 6 pack is seen as two sets of 3, and in between these is usually a line. Your 6 pack is not actually one complete muscle, that mid-line in between is called the linea alba; a connective tissue joining the two sides which is made from collegen. With separation of the abdominals this linea alba has stretched to form a diastasis.

This is a completely natural occurrence during pregnancy and more people have it than we all realise (actually 100% of women may have some level of diastasis of the rectus abdominis in the third trimester. (Gilliard and Brown 1996, Diane Lee 2013). 

Q: ‘will my tummy muscles come back together?’

A: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. BUT if they don’t that doesn’t mean that you cannot achieve a flat, toned, functionally strong tummy.

Q: ‘how long will it take to re-gain my flat tummy?’

A: A question which is totally dependant on a lot of elements; your own bodies ability to recover, your postural habits around the house, your nutrition quality, your age, time passed since having your baby, how quickly you ‘switch on’ your knowledge to using your core, how much you practise the exercises, how much sleep you get, are all relevant in the time it will take you to narrow the gap and re-strengthen  the mid line.

Q: ‘will I need surgery?’

A: The vast majority of diastasis can be narrowed and the core tightened without surgery.

Lesson 1: It is not about closing the gap – it’s about tightening the mid line.

It is reversible, however it is not always about ‘closing the gap’ but gaining tension within that linea alba again. So don’t worry if you don’t close the gap! Although the ‘gap’ can naturally narrow post childbirth, often it needs a little help to come back together as it sometimes doesn’t correct itself naturally. For many women the gap remains widened at 8 weeks postpartum, and left untreated, the gap at 8 weeks remains unchanged at 1 year after giving birth. (Coldron et al 2008, Liaw et al 2011)

In some people the separation never returns to ‘normal’ or sometimes doesn’t close. In the studies that have been done, there has never been any consensus about what is actually ‘normal’ in terms of the distance of this seperation.

If the separation never ‘closes’ but the person is able to generate tension in the linea alba and their internal core is synergized (meaning the timing of the pelvic floor, deep abdominals, breathing and multifidus are all as they need to be) then there is no problem and they would be considered a functional diastasis.

Lesson 2: How do you know if you have it?

Always Check! Sometimes at your 6 week post natal check-up the doctor will check for this and then other times they won’t. If you haven’t had your check then ask them when you do. If you have had it and do not know here is a simple diastasis recti check video to help you find out. (Alternatively if you live near in the area of Switch Fitness London we would be happy to check for you)

Lesson 3: If you find out you have it there are two things to do straight away:

1. Worry Less! Diastasis recti / Separation of the abdominals is a completely natural occurrence. It is not something to be scared, worried or upset about. I see such a high percentage of clients and members who come into Switch who have actually had or still got diastasis.

2. Make sure you stop any of the following exercises if you are doing any of these: sit ups, crunches, core exercises that lower the legs (straight to the floor), planks, excessive press ups and anything that overworks your hip flexors.

Lesson 5: How do you correct, close or narrow the gap?

A whole body approach of stretching, activating and strengthening certain muscles and chains of muscles is the most effective approach to closing up the gap. Effective Diastasis Recti treatment is a whole body fix, it is not as many people thing, an isolated or ‘one-muscle’ fix; therefore, isolated Pilates exercises or doing hundred of repetitions of any ‘abdominal exercise’ simply won’t work long term because they are addressing the symptoms and not the cause. To focus just on ‘the gap between the core muscles’ is to miss the point completely. You will see some examples of this below as well as our Home workout program to regain core.

Lesson 6: Recovery is not just about attending one class.

It is typically never just one thing but rather a combination of influences that contribute to DRA.There are many influencers that can contribute to Diastasis and also hinder the recovery process:

  1. Changes in intra-abdominal pressure; that’s pressure pushing outwards, un-contained as it should be by fully functioning core musculature.
  2. Poor posture; forward flexion movements such as the sitting posture during breastfeeding
  3. Flaring the ribs when relaxing in core exercises
  4. Pushing during labour
  5. Reverse breathing or chest breathing,
  6. Overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles and ‘tucking the tailbone’.

When it comes to ‘closing the gap’ or tightening the mid-line, there is a lot more to think about that just the exercises you do in class, and it does take a little bit more thought that relying on that to bring them back together.