Can you fix separation of stomach muscles (diastasis recti)?

Women holding baby in sling

December 9, 2023

Diastasis recti is a very common condition that occurs in pregnant and post partum women, where the stomach muscles separate due to being stretched in pregnancy. It can lead to bulging of the stomach muscles, and may contribute to other problems such as back pain, hip pain and pelvic floor issues. If you are reading this, you may be suffering from diastasis recti yourself. The good news is that there are exercises that can help to improve and heal the problem, all of which can be performed at home. It also doesn’t matter how long you’ve had the problem, improvements can still be made. Read on for more or you can skip straight to our programme to have a look.

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is the separation of stomach muscles during and after pregnancy. It involves the rectus abdominis muscle, which is often called the “six pack” muscle. There is a band of connective tissue which joins the two sides of the abdominal muscle together called the linea alba. During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles get stretched as the bump grows and the linea alba can eventually split in two, creating a gap. This separation during pregnancy is completely normal and happens in 60% of pregnancies1 – it should not be considered a cause for concern. This is because the linea alba is very elastic, so it will often naturally come back together within 3 months of giving birth. However, if it is overstretched too far, it can lose its elasticity and, as a result, the stomach muscles stay separated for much longer, which occurs in nearly 40% of cases.1 This can cause more long term physical health issues so it is important to get it sorted.

What causes diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is a completely normal phenomenon during pregnancy due to the increased pressure on the abdominal muscles as the baby grows. However, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing diastasis recti:

  • Having a big baby or twins/triplets
  • Over the age of 35
  • having multiple pregnancies, particularly close together
  • vaginal delivery- due to the increased abdominal pressure when giving birth.

What are the symptoms of stomach muscle separation?

Whilst diastasis recti can occur during pregnancy, most women won’t notice any symptoms of diastasis recti until after giving birth.

The symptoms can include the following:

  • A noticeable bulge or “pouch” in the stomach
  • A doming or bulge of the stomach when you contract your stomach muscles
  • poor posture
  • low back or pelvic pain
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • incontinence and other pelvic floor issues
  • difficulty lifting heavy objects

How do I know if I have diastasis recti?

Whilst any of the symptoms above can be a sign of diastasis recti, the most common symptom that women notice is a bulge or softness of their belly around the mid section. There is also noticeable doming when lifting or contracting your abdominal muscles.

You can also test for a diastasis recti in this way:

  • Lie on back with your knees bent
  • lift your head off the floor to contract the stomach muscles
  • use your fingers to feel for a gap in the stomach muscles- if you feel a gap of more than 2 fingers, it is important to get advice from a health care professional.

If you have any concerns at all about the possibility of diastasis recti, please speak to your doctor or a specialised women’s health physio.

How can I fix diastasis recti?

A lot of cases of diastasis recti will heal within 8-12 weeks post partum. If yours haven’t, don’t worry, gentle abdominal work can help to bring the muscles back together and regain your core strength. Have a read below to follow the exercises.

There are certain day to day movements that can make abdominal separation worse, so it is worth following the steps below:

  • Try to avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby
  • Do not sit straight up from the floor, make sure you roll over onto your side and sit up.
  • avoid exercises like crunches and sit ups which push the stomach outwards

For exercises that are safe to do during your pregnancy, check out our pre and post natal page.

What are the best exercises for diastasis recti?

There are many different levels of exercises for diastasis recti but here are the first level exercises that will get you started on your recovery. Make sure you can comfortably do these exercises without any doming before you progress to any harder ones.

  1. Deep Abdominal Exercises
  • Lie on back with knees bent and your hand on your stomach.
  • take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out, draw your belly button towards your spine.
  • hold for 5 breathes, and then relax the abdominal muscles
  • Repeat 10 times.

2. Knee Fall Outs

  • Lie on back with knees bent.
  • Activate your stomach muscles, as in the exercise above.
  • Gently lower you right knee towards the floor. Keep the left leg with the knee pointing to the ceiling.
  • Do not let your pelvic tilt as you move the right leg.
  • Slowly return the right leg to the middle, and repeat for the left leg.
  • Repeat 5 times each leg.

3. Oblique Muscle Contraction

  • Lie on back with knees bent. Place both hands on right knee.
  • Breathe in and, as you breathe out, push hands and knee together to activate your stomach muscle, the right knee may come off the floor as you do this.
  • Breathe in and out for 3 more breathes, then relax.
  • Repeat 5 times each side.

4. Leg Slides

  • Lie on back with knees bent.
  • Activate your stomach muscles.
  • Slowly straighten one leg out along the floor. Once you feel the back start top arch, don’t go any further as your core will switch off.
  • Bring leg back to neutral.
  • Repeat 5 time each side

For next level programmes, have a look at the rest of our pre and post natal page.

What exercises should I avoid?

Some core exercises are not beneficial for someone suffering with diastasis recti because they cause the stomach wall to bulge forward, potentially making the problem worse.

Exercises to avoid include:

  • crunches or sit ups
  • planks or press ups (modified versions can be included in later stages of rehabilitation)
  • exercises which lift both legs off the floor, such as scissor.

How can I prevent my stomach muscles from separating?

Always remember that some separation of the stomach muscles is normal during pregnancy. However, there are certain things you can do to reduce the chance of developing diastasis recti.

  • Try not to sit up from lying- make sure you roll onto your side and push yourself up from there.
  • No crunches or sit ups from 12 weeks to avoid putting pressure on your abdominal muscles- check out our programmes for safe exercises during pregnancy
  • Avoid heavy lifting
  • Healthy weight gain during pregnancy- gaining too much weight during pregnancy puts more pressure on the muscles.

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diastasisrecti

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