This super informative guest post was brought to you by Inemesit Graham
3 years ago, I discovered I had diastasis recti. It wasn’t diagnosed by my doctor postpartum, the midwives who visited me weekly, or spoken about in any exercise program I’d ever sought after. No. 3 years ago, I discovered I had diastasis recti…from a Facebook group!
I shared a photo of my 6 months’ postpartum body as an accountability post for my fitness journey, and was asked by a lot of women why my stomach appeared ad it did; protruding to a triangular point at the belly button, my skin sinking into a chasm between my abs when I lay down. Then someone asked if I had “diastasis recti”. Having never heard that term I googled it, and there it was, all these bellies that looked just like mine.
Diastasis Recti is often referred to as a “mummy tummy”. It’s the stretching of the linea alba, the -connective tissue between the abdominal wall that runs from the pelvis to the sternum, that results in the separation of the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis (6-pack) wall. Diastasis recti is the result of unmanaged high intra-abdominal pressure that results in the weakening of muscles and tearing of fascia. It occurs in up to 60% of postpartum women (although pregnancy is not specifically the cause, but rather unmanaged high intra-abdominal pressure during pregnancy). DR can also happen because of weight gain, or over-training the rectus abdominis with exercises such as crunches.
Before I knew about the DR I was obsessed, not unlike many postpartum women, with flattening my stomach. I would wake up each morning and do 50 crunches followed by 50 sit-ups, then repeat the process again in the evening. In hindsight, I realize how much damage those movements were doing to my core.
After I read about diastasis recti online I scheduled an appointment with the Nurse Practitioner. She checked my stomach and confirmed the DR. I sat down and spoke to her about my options and she gave them to me: surgery. She said she would book a consult with the General Surgeon but it may not happen immediately. When my appointment was confirmed it was for 6 months later. I didn’t want surgery. I knew that. I was born with an umbilical hernia. I had abdominal surgery as a child to attempt to repair it but the surgery was unsuccessful (the hernia still exists today) and the experience was unpleasant. I knew I did not want to have surgery if I could avoid it so I took it upon myself to research the condition. I joined social media groups, pages and blogs and started reading about other people’s journey with the condition. I found success stories; people who had healed their DR without the need for surgery. I thought maybe that could be me, that maybe if in 6 months I could meet with surgeon and he could see how strong my core was that he wouldn’t recommend surgery. And in the summer of 2013 my journey began.
I purchased and followed DR programs such as the MuTu System and the Tupler Technique. I read everything I could find on the internet regarding DR and bought every book I could find on Amazon. Last year I took a Personal Training Specialist certification course with Canfitpro and this year I got certified as a Fitness Trainer with ISSA. I’ve taken online DR continuing education courses and back health certifications. And 3.5 years into my journey I’ve seen my DR reduce from 7 fingers to 3 fingers, had my back pain diminish, and my core strength return.
If you suspect you have diastasis recti, you can check yourself in the following way:
Diastasis Recti Self Test
But exercise isn’t really where you should start. The thing with DR is women notice the belly and their obsession immediately becomes to flatten it. So, they google “ab exercises” and start ding these workouts that target the most superficial abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominis, and end up further increasing pressure within their core and causing further damage. DR isn’t simply the splitting of the rectus abdominis; this is a side effect of a great issue. DR is the result of unmanaged internal pressure and weakened muscles that don’t activate. To address the issue, you must address the cause.
So, if not exercise first then what?
The journey begins with your breath. Yes breath. Chances are, you are not even breathing properly. Let me explain:
Your core is always under pressure. But depending on your breath the amount of pressure changes.
Imagine your core as cylinder. The top of your core, the lid, is your diaphragm (the muscle that contracts and moves down when you inhale to allow your lungs to fillt he bottom of your core is your pelvic floor. Wrapped around your core is your transverse abdominis (TvA), your internal corset. On the front sits your rectus abdominis (6 pack), on the sides your oblique’s, and on the back your lower back muscles.
Your core is always under pressure, and depending on your breaths and movements, that pressure changes. But it is important that a constant level of pressure is maintained within your abdominal cavity. The contents of your core don’t change as far as the contents of your abdominal viscera (your organs), but the amount of space within your core changes based on you whether you are inhaling or exhaling.
When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves down to allow your lungs to fill. This reduces the space within your abdominal cavity. The same number of organs are now contained within a smaller space so the pressure increases as a result. When you inhale, your internal pressure is higher than normal. Therefore, it is necessary to relax your abs so they can extend outward a little to increase the space within your abdomen and so reduce the pressure to a normal amount. Sucking in while inhaling reduces the space in your abdomen further, and creates high amounts of pressure which pushes up against your diaphragm, down against your pelvic floor, and out against your abs and fascia, weakening all.
When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves up pushing the air out of your lungs out. As it moves up you now have more space within your abdominal cavity but the same amount of contents. The pressure reduces as a result. Low pressure within your abdominal cavity means your spine is unsupported and susceptible to injury. You must increase the pressure back to a normal amount. By pulling your belly button in and up on the exhale, you lift your pelvic fall, and contract your abs, pulling them in, and so reducing the space within your abdominal cavity. This increases the pressure back to a normal amount and stabilizes your spine.
A lot of women with DR become accustomed to sucking it in. If you’re sucking it in, you’re not breathing properly, but worse still, you’re causing high amounts of intra-abdominal pressure which is damaging your core muscles.
Equally as important as proper breathing is correct posture. Although DR is often viewed the separation of the 6-pack muscle, the rectus abdominis, it is actually the result of a weak and separated transverse abdominis. You have 4 layers of abdominal muscles, with the transverse abdominis (TvA), your internal corset, being the deepest layer. Every other layer of abs (the internal and external oblique’s and the rectus abdominis) sits on top of the TvA, and all are connected by the linea alba. When the TvA pulls away at the linea alba (due to loosening during pregnancy to allow for the uterus to grow) all layers of abdominal muscles on top of it also pull away from the linea alba.
While exercises like crunches focus on strengthening the rectus abdominis, it is the TvA that needs to be the focus on DR workouts. The TvA connects the ribcage to the pelvis. In correct posture, the bottom of the ribcage should sit directly above the top of the pelvis. If your body is out of alignment, and your hips or ribs are shifted forward, then your TvA cannot contract.
6 months into changing my lifestyle and exercise habits to treat the DR naturally, I saw the General Surgeon. After examining me he confirmed that I did have diastasis recti, but he didn’t recommend surgery. He told me that my abs were strong, fully functioning, and the only reason he would suggest surgery would be if I wanted it for superficial reasons, such as to improve the appearance of the hernia. 6 months into my journey, I’d healed my DR to the extent that my diagnosis went from surgery to no surgery. Contrary to popular belief, DR can be treated naturally.
Visit Mummy-Fitness.com or follow me on Facebook at Mummy Fitness to learn more about diastasis recti and natural treatments for it.