5 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Diastasis Recti (But Should)
This was me at 6 months pregnant with my second baby. Do you see the cone in my belly? THAT is abdominal separation, also known as abdominal coning, doming or Diastasis Recti.
I know this picture can be shocking to see, but may also be vaguely familiar if you’ve been pregnant.
When I first posted this photo on my Instagram account last year, I was overwhelmed with the level of concern from my friends and family.
“Are you ok??”
“Does it hurt?”
“Is the baby ok??”
“Oh my gosh I had that too and thought there was something wrong with me!”
I had to reassure everyone that all was ok, because it looks scary and ‘the unknown’ can be scary too. Fortunately, I knew what was happening and how to minimize it, but I imagined how unsettling it would feel to see my stomach cone out like this and NOT know what was going on.
The good news for you is…now you know! 🙂
Here are 5 surprising things you may not know about Diastasis Recti.
1 – What it is: The Core Gap.
Let’s start here because let’s face it, one of the most surprising things about abdominal separation is that no one knows about it!
Simply put, Diastasis Recti is the separation of the connective tissue between the six-pack muscles (the rectus abdominals). It happens when too much pressure is placed on that muscle and the tissue connecting the two sides together starts to stretch and separate, creating a ‘depression’ between the two muscles. (Not sure if you have it? Learn how to check yourself here!)
The coning you see in the photo above happened when I lifted my head like I was going to do a crunch. The six-pack muscles contract, but instead of pulling together, they pull to the sides around the baby. The dome that you see is my internal organs pushing into the connective tissue between the muscles. It sounds scary and painful, but don’t worry! If you see this, you are not broken and nothing is “wrong” with you.
**As a side note: A hernia is the next stage after diastasis, where the connective tissue tears and there is an actual hole where the internal organs can be seen popping out. If you see this, please see your OB or Pelvic Floor PT!
Once the abs split, this is where the trouble comes in. If your abdominal muscles are over-stretched and weak, they cannot fully contract and do their job to support the spine in your movements. During pregnancy, the growing baby pushes them out and the lower back muscles jump in and lock down to keep the spine in its proper alignment. We often see this manifest as back pain.
In postpartum, if a Diastasis is not closed or the underlying weakness of the core is not resolved, the abdominals can end up ‘leaking’ out through the stretched connective tissue. The internal pressure of the abdominal system, which is meant to support and protect the spine, is no longer correctly pressurized and can cause all kinds of issues like pelvic floor disfunction, prolapse, hip pain, back pain, neck pain, peeing when you jump – all sorts of conditions that are common, but NOT a normal part of being a mother.
2 – It’s Incredibly Common. but it’s NOT normal.
As common as Diastasis is, no one talks about it and very few people knows what it is or what it really looks like. This is a problem. Not talking about it keeps women from knowing how to prevent it or how to keep it from getting worse in pregnancy AND postpartum, and keeps us in a cycle of pain and weakness.
Nearly every pregnant woman has some form of Diastasis Recti, and 60% of women still have the separation 6 months postpartum. Even a woman who had a small gap during pregnancy can create an even bigger abdominal separation in postpartum if core exercises are done incorrectly or too quickly before they have healed.
So while Diastasis is common, that does not make it normal. “Normal” implies that it’s something our bodies can easily adapt to and repair on its own without our intervention.
While some women’s separations will naturally heal on their own, a large majority of women have to purposefully retrain their deep core and pelvic floor muscles to fire correctly so they can close the gap and re-pressurize to their core to work properly. Of course, if you have questions about the severity of your separation, consult with your midwife or OBGYN.
3 – You don’t have to be pregnant to get it.
Did you know that men and non-pregnant women can get Diastasis Recti too! Incorrect mechanics coupled with weak foundational core muscles is often to blame, and over-doing twisting core work can over-engaged the side-waist muscles (the obliques) can pull the abdominal muscles further apart.
3 – Depth is more important to address than width.
This is a BIGGIE. Ideally, you want to concentrate on resolving the depth of your abdominal separation before the width. Meaning, if you test yourself for Diastasis and find that you have a 3 finger-wide diastasis behind your belly button but the tissue under your fingers feels springy (like trampoline material), you’re moving in the right direction.
However, if you have a 1 finger separation but your finger sinks deeply into your abdominals, it’s important to focus on retraining your core, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles further to help pull that tissue back to where it belongs.
4 – The location of your separation can tell you where your weakness is, and which exercises to do to fix it!
It’s possible to have different levels of separation and depth along the line of Diastasis Recti. An abdominal separation in the upper core can indicate weakness in the diaphragm and a shallow breathing pattern, while a separation in the lower core can indicate weakness in the pelvic floor, and a separation behind the belly button can indicate overactive core muscles or an internal abdominal pressure issue.
5 – Really fit people are at a GREATER risk of getting Diastasis Recti.
This one always trips people up. Fit people shouldn’t have issues with ab separation right?! Nope. I’ve seen some of the most severe cases of Diastasis Recti on pilates instructors and personal trainers!
Really fit people with tight core muscles can have a great support system in place for their spine when they are not pregnant, but that tightness means the muscles have less ability to stretch during pregnancy to make room for the growing baby. If the muscles won’t stretch, the tissue between the muscles will give in first.
What do you do if you see a cone or think you have Diastasis Recti?
If you see a cone like this on yourself, please avoid doing crunches and any core work that lifts either your head or both legs off the floor. Twisting motions like bicycles or rotational chops are also off limits because it puts additional pressure on a system that is not strong enough to withstand the twisting.
What can you do? Learn how to retrain your muscles PROPERLY, from the foundation of the corset muscles, up, and then build back to traditional core work slowly.