Physical therapy can help you combat diastasis recti.
If you feel like your stomach still makes you look pregnant long after giving birth, you may be experiencing what two-thirds of new mothers struggle with: diastasis recti. You may have come across information online that promises quick fixes with specific exercises, but physical therapy can provide superior benefits through an accurate diagnosis, postural training, and strengthening.
What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is a condition that occurs when a pregnant woman’s uterus stretches the muscles of the abdomen, causing thinning of connective tissue and separation of the two large parallel bands of muscles at the front of the belly.
This separation results in a gap the width of two or three fingers or more between the right and left abdominal wall muscles. Once the baby is delivered and hormone levels return to pre-pregnancy concentrations, thinning generally improves, but sometimes the stretched tissue loses its elasticity and the ability to retract back into position, much like an overstretched rubber band. This leaves behind a rounded, protruding post-pregnancy pooch.
This occurs in nearly two-thirds of all pregnant women, and unfortunately doesn’t usually go away as quickly and easily as the weight gained during the pregnancy. Studies have indicated there are certain factors that increase your chances of suffering from abdominal stretching. Such factors may include: long labor, having more than one child (i.e. twins, triplets or more), poor muscle tone, more than one pregnancy or previous abdominal surgeries.
Although diastasis recti may lead to relatively minor problems — for instance, not being able to button your jeans even when you are at your pre-pregnancy weight — it can be connected to more serious issues, such as abdominal and lower back pain, breathing issues, pelvic pain and dysfunction, risk for hernia and C-section due to future pregnancy problems.
How can physical therapy help?
An effective, noninvasive treatment option for diastasis recti is physical therapy. A physical therapist can treat diastasis recti with postural training, strengthening, bracing, and teaching patients to perform daily activities, such as lifting and carrying their baby, while maintaining proper posture.
A tailored fitness program can help correct diastasis recti and should be used as a first-line approach, although some exercises, such as crunches and sit-ups, can actually exacerbate the problem. Surgery in the form of a tummy tuck can also be an option, although it should only be considered as a last resort after your family is complete.
A study published in January 2016 in the Journal of Diseases examined the effectiveness of treating diastasis recti with physical therapy and found that isometric contraction of the transverse abdominal muscle could be effective in treating the condition. In order to work these muscles and others, your physical therapist may recommend exercises, including:
- Belly breathing. While lying flat on your back, inhale deeply, allowing your belly and chest to fully inflate. Then exhale slowly and forcefully, drawing your abdominal wall in as you do so.
- Heel slides. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Straighten your arms, lift them directly over your shoulders and exhale while slowly extending one leg out in front of you, and simultaneously extending the opposite arm back above the head, just off the floor. Repeat on the other side, keeping your hips and core stable throughout the entire movement.
- Quadruped Abdominal Exercise. While on all fours with your hands under your shoulder and knees under your hips, pull your shoulders wide and away from your ears, forming a flat back. Take a slow, deep inhale and then exhale, drawing the abdominal muscles up and in while maintaining a flat back.
If you’re ready to enlist the help of a skilled physical therapist for proper diagnosis and to bridge the gap that might be causing your post-pregnancy pooch, visit one of our 175+ physical therapy clinics throughout Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, or schedule an appointment at the clinic nearest you.