Abdominal separation is a common condition that occurs in pregnancy and postpartum, where the left and right halves of the rectus abdominis (six pack muscles) separate. Diastasis means separation, and recti refers to the rectus abdominis muscles.
Abdominal separation is caused by overstretching of abdominal muscles, to allow to growth of the uterus and baby during pregnancy. A small amount of widening of the gap happens in all pregnancies and is normal. Abdominal separation occurs in about 30% of all pregnancies. The gap returns to less than 2 finger-widths spontaneously in most pregnancies, but for many, the tissue remains too wide, causing problems. The abdominal muscles become weak, and therefore reduce the protection and stability of the whole body, not just the abdomen section.
How to test for abdominal separation / diastasis recti?
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor
- Place one hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips just above the belly button
- Lift your upper body a couple of inches off the floor, and gently press your fingertips on the abdomen
- Move your fingertips along the midline, above and below the belly button to check for separation
- A gap of two or more finger-widths is generally considered as abdominal separation
What exercises / movements should be avoided when abdominal separation is present?
Once abdominal separation is confirmed, you will need to focus on pulling the abdominal muscles closer together, and avoid any movements that pull the muscles apart on a daily basis.
Here’s a quick checklist of exercises / movements to avoid:
- Flexion of the spine. Examples: crunches, sit-ups. Not only crunches and sit-ups make the separation worse, they are also bad for the back. So no more crunches or sit-ups ladies!
- Crunching up to get out of bed or get up from the floor. Always roll over to your side, then use your arms to push yourself up to a sitting position.
- Any movement that involves strong / resisted rotation or side flexion. Examples: side crunches, russian twists, ab ‘bicycles’, side-bends with dumbbells.
- Plank. The amount of pressure placed on your abdominals while holding a plank can be immense, it can easily make any gap in your abdominals worse. As the separation heals, this exercise can be slowly introduced into your workouts.
- Movements that stretch the abdominals. Example: back extensions. Not only these movements will feel uncomfortable, they are inappropriate for weakened abdominal muscles.
So you might be thinking ‘what can I do about my abdominal separation’? Luckily, there are specific exercises you can do to help your abdominal muscles recover, and I am here to help explain it to you. Find out more on our ‘Abdominal Separation Recovery Programme‘ here.