Diastasis recti describes the separation between rectus abdominis muscles, which run down the midline of the abdomen. This occurs most commonly during pregnancy when the muscles are significantly stretched. Read our article to delve deeper into diastasis recti, along with safety tips and two great exercises to improve it!
Diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (six-pack abs), which run down the midline of the body.
Diastasis recti is most common among pregnant and postnatal women; however, it can also affect those with weak abdominal muscles, individuals with a high BMI, or premature babies.
Generally, two centimeters of separation is considered normal and safe. Many pregnant women will experience this in order for the uterus to grow.
Deep abdominal and pelvic floor strengthening exercises have been shown to significantly improve diastasis recti.
Whilst not inherently dangerous, if complications occur, diastasis recti may lead to lower back pain, bloating, a hernia, poor posture, or pelvic floor weakness.
Diastasis recti is common during pregnancy. Separation larger than two centimeters may cause issues such as poor posture, back pain, or a hernia (when organs push through surrounding muscles due to pressure or weakness). As a preventative measure, it’s important to strengthen the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, improve posture, and progressively load exercises.
Diastasis recti: what you need to know
Separation occurs when the connective tissue called linea alba (which divides the rectus abdominis muscles) is stretched or pressured. This separation can happen for various reasons. Pregnant women's abdominals stretch to accommodate a growing fetus. Individuals with a body mass index (BMI) around thirty or higher can experience excessive pressure on their abdominals. Premature babies may be born with underdeveloped abdominals. For some, diastasis recti can improve by itself. However, others may benefit from implementing deep core and pelvic floor exercises. In severe cases (such as serious tears), a healthcare professional may advise surgical intervention.
A physical therapist can diagnose diastasis recti by using fingers to feel for separation. They may observe for bulging around the abdomen area, watch exercises being performed, or use rehabilitation technology, such as ultrasound imaging, to assess abdominal muscles during exercises.
If you have diastasis recti, there are actionable steps you can take to help improve it. It’s important to support your body with safe and effective exercises without overdoing it. Consider starting Pilates, which focuses on breath technique, strengthening the deep core (such as transverse abdominis) and pelvic floor muscles.
One study, in particular, found that an abdominal crunch with transversus abdominis preactivation (deep core muscles) compared to a regular crunch had significantly better improvements for diastasis recti. Exercises focusing on alignment and improving posture are great choices to reduce the likelihood of back pain. Be sure to train with a qualified and knowledgeable instructor.
How to improve diastasis recti
Here are some tips that might help you improve diastasis recti:
- Improve deep core strength. Exercises for the transverse abdominis muscles (TVA) help provide internal support and stability.
- Strengthen pelvic floor muscles. This will help support posture and core strength whilst preventing pelvic floor dysfunction.
- Improve posture. This can positively influence core function and reduce the likelihood of back pain.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects. This may prevent putting excess pressure on the abdominal muscles, which can worsen diastasis recti.
- Start Pilates. Find a class that focuses on strength, alignment, technique, and breath. Consider a one-to-one session first.
Two exercises for improving diastasis recti
Below, you can find step-by-step instructions for transverse abdominis activation and single toe taps, which aim to improve diastasis recti.
Transverse abdominis activation
- Lie comfortably on your back, legs bent, feet roughly under your hips.
- Place both the middle and index fingers on the inside of your hip bones.
- Cough once, feeling the muscles completely tense under your fingertips (the transverse is activating at one hundred percent).
- Exhale. Internally zip your belly button in and up as you slide your ribcage down (shortening the space between the ribs and hips).
- Feel the muscles under your fingers gently tighten. Aim for twenty percent activation of these muscles (unlike the cough).
- Inhale and release. Repeat for eight sets.
Single toe taps
- Lie comfortably on your back, legs bent, feet roughly under your hips, placing the middle and index fingers inside your hip bones on either side.
- Gently float your right leg up to the tabletop (knee in line with the hip, shin parallel to the ceiling).
- Exhale. Tap your foot down to the mat (ensuring twenty percent TVA activation from the previous exercise).
- Inhale. Float your left leg up to the tabletop. Exhale to tap your foot down. Inhale, and float your right leg up. Exhale — tap down.
- Repeat for eight sets. Always keep one foot down on the mat for support.
Don’t feel disheartened if you have diastasis recti. The body goes through immense changes during pregnancy to grow your baby, which is both beautiful and natural. Preparing your body before, during, or after pregnancy with deep core exercises will help support your body. Regardless of your specific cause for diastasis recti, implementing exercises can be beneficial. Consider starting Pilates, which will help strengthen deep core and pelvic floor muscles whilst improving posture and body awareness. Firing up your transverse abdominis muscles during exercises ensures effectiveness and safety.
If you suspect diastasis recti, consult a healthcare professional. Diastasis recti can improve with time, exercise, and body awareness during daily tasks (such as lifting heavy objects). However, in severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. Make sure you seek professional medical advice when needed.
- J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. Efficacy of deep core stability exercise program in postpartum women with diastasis recti abdominis: a randomised controlled trial.
- Springer Open Choice. Prevalence and risk factors for diastasis recti abdominis: a review and proposal of a new anatomical variation.
- Diagnostics (Basel). Efficacy and Challenges in the Treatment of Diastasis Recti Abdominis - A Scoping Review on the Current Trends and Future Perspectives.